By LARRY VAUGHT
Eli Brown is not leaving the Kentucky football program because he’s unhappy. He called it an “honor and a privilege” to play at UK for three years and said that UK “will forever be in my heart” when he announced his transfer.
He’ll play playing at Western Kentucky University after finishing his course work at UK last week. He said it was “not a big deal” to finish his class work at UK after announcing his transfer to his hometown school.
“I have been talking about transferring from UK for a while,” said Brown. “Everyone had a good idea I would do it eventually. When I finally made a decision, the team … we are all close. It wasn’t awkward because I am still close to all the guys. Everybody around campus stayed cool. It was not a problem at all to stay and finish the semester.”
He couldn’t work out with his teammates or use UK’s football facilities. Instead, he spent about $800 of his own money for a trainer and often would work out at night. He wanted to increase his weight and stay in shape so he would not be behind when he got to Western.
He redshirted his first year at UK but last season played in 12 games and had 38 tackles. He was a major contributor for the UK defense when starter Jordan Jones missed games with a shoulder injury.
Brown was a four-star prospect out of high school and picked UK over Ohio State, Mississippi, Penn State, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Vanderbilt. He said he “loved” UK when he signed with the Cats and walks away with the same feeling for the team, coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator Matt House.
So why did he transfer?
“I had to take care of my family,” Brown said.
Then he went on to tell me the story about having two younger sisters in foster care — one younger brother (age 16) still is. They were in Florida with his mother before she passed away a few years ago. Once they were old enough to get out of foster care, his sisters came to Lexington to be with him.
“It’s hard to take care of two sisters while in college and having to pay the bills. My family decided it would be best if I would move back home (to Bowling Green) and get some support to help me,” Brown said. “The house I grew up in is right down the street from Western. I can walk to the stadium. I truly loved UK but I have to do this to take care of my family.”
He said trying to take care of his sisters has been the “most difficult thing” he’s ever had to do. He was the second oldest of his mom’s five children. His older brother has been in and out of prison.
“I always had to take care of my younger siblings,” Brown said. “When I got to Kentucky, I felt guilty. I was leading a normal life with my dad and step-mom. My sisters didn’t get to experience that. I knew one day I would need to take care of my brother and sisters. I brought them here (to Kentucky) and have been doing the best I can. It’s been a struggle. At times I felt maybe I should quit football and get a full-time job. My parents pushed me to stick with football, but it’s been hard.
“I am 22 now. I have a story to tell. I have been through hell and back. I lived in Canada and I lived in Jamaica for a year each. When I am on the football field, I can zone everything else out. But I have to make a living for my family.
“All my life I have had to deal with adversity. I have learned a man of his word takes care of his family. I knew playing football and getting my education could help me do that for my family. That’s why I’ve always dived head-first into my books and tried my hardest to stay focused on football. We were all raised in the church. I continue to keep my faith in God. My father tells me there is a reason I have been through all this. I trust he’s right.”
Brown wants UK fans to know he believes in the Kentucky program and wishes the program and his former teammates nothing but the best.
“This is not a move I wanted to make but it is a move I had to make and I just hope everybody can understand that and know that I truly love UK,” Brown said. “But family has to come first.”