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Giant Opportunity: East grad among defensive elite since becoming starter in NFL

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When New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips went down with a strained MCL the fourth game of the season, Stevie Brown was ready.

In the nearly seven games that Phillips has been out, Brown has turned heads with his play in the Big Apple. In fact, the 2006 Columbus East graduate has played so well that even with Phillips expected to return next week, Brown might keep his starting job.

“I hope that’s the case,” Brown said. “I’m not the one that makes the decision, but I hope that I can stay on the field.”

Brown was pressed into action and came up with an interception in Week 3 after safety Antrel Rolle was injured running into a cameraman. When Phillips was injured the following week, Brown again stepped in, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“I knew I was going to have to play,” Brown said. “I knew I was the next safety. I went out there with the mindset that we can’t have a drop-off. Kenny is a great player, and they’re used to having that out there, so we can’t have a letdown.”

Brown certainly hasn’t let down his coaches and teammates. He ranks third on the defending Super Bowl champions with 38 solo tackles and ranks second in the NFL with five interceptions and seven takeaways. His biggest game came in Week 8 at Dallas when he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in a 29-24 victory.

“The only goal I have is just being able to contribute,” Brown said. “I want to be one of the players on the team that my teammates and coaches can trust out there.”

Brown was playing on all of the Giants’ special teams before he became a starter. He is still on the kickoff team and sometimes plays on the punt return and field goal block units.

Former teammates and coaches aren’t surprised at the success Brown has found in his third season in the NFL.

“The thing I’ve always said about Stevie is, when your hardest workers are your best players or your best players are your hardest workers, you have a chance to have a good football team,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “He was always our hardest worker. The guy just busted his tail end because he had some high goals.

“He came in here as a freshman, and we lifted a lot of eyebrows because we started him at corner, and we said, ‘We think this young man can play,’ and he never let us down at all, as far as being a guy that would just doing everything it took to be a great player and a great person,” he said. “He’s represented our school and our town real well.”

Brown is having by far his best season as a pro. A seventh-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2010, he made 29 tackles as a rookie. But the Raiders cut him before the 2011 season, and he was signed by Carolina the next day.

The Panthers released Brown after three days, but the Indianapolis Colts picked him up. He spent most of last season on injured reserve, and after the Colts didn’t re-sign him, Brown found a home with the Giants.

“It’s pretty awesome to see him actually get a chance, and then he’s making the most of his opportunity,” said John Sims, a former teammate at East. “He’s doing great. It’s awesome to watch him play on Sundays.

“Even if I don’t get to catch the games, I have people texting me, calling me, ‘Did you see what Stevie just did? He just made a tackle or just got an interception,’” he said. “Just all day, the phone is constantly ringing.”

Sims, who is now an assistant coach for the Olympians, replaced Brown in the offensive backfield after Brown went down with an ankle injury the third week of his senior season. Brown missed the rest of that 2005 high school season, but made it back to play in the 2006 Army All-American Bowl.

“He was just a kid that worked his tail off, and a testament to him working his tail off was when he was hurt his senior year and was able to battle back and play in that Army All-American game and then go on and have a great career at Michigan and then make it in the pros, as well,” East defensive coordinator Eddie Vogel said.

“I’m extremely happy for Stevie,” Gaddis said. “He’s always remembered where he came from. Ever since he went to Michigan, he’s still come back, and since he’s been a professional football player he’s come back around.”

Brown lives in North Bergen, N.J., and was without power for more than a week following Hurricane Sandy. But a maintenance man at his complex “rigged a few things” to where he had heat and hot water, and Brown didn’t have to evacuate.

Brown has been in the New York area since April and was there when the Giants received their Super Bowl rings.

“A couple of them were showing them to me,” Brown said. “It definitely wanted to make me get one for myself.”

Although the Giants lost last week at Cincinnati, they still sit atop the NFC East with a 6-4 record. They have a bye week this week and host Green Bay next Sunday night.

“We’re happy where we are,” Brown said. “We feel like we could be better. The ultimate goal is to get into the playoffs and get down to New Orleans.”

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