ANDOVER — Charles “Trey” Brown remembers his first snap for the Phillips Andover football team during his lone postgraduate year in 2011.
It was his last.
Coach Leon Modeste called for “power right” during a scrimmage at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols. Brown, a running back from Livingston, Calif., took the handoff. He tried to weave his way between the right guard and tackle but, at the last second, a defender clipped his right knee.
Crumpling to the ground, he felt his prep career falling with him.
“I knew immediately what happened,” recalled Brown. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Brown battled a flood of emotions waiting for the results of his MRI. At Livingston High School, he had played varsity baseball, basketball, and football. At Phillips, he expected to catch the attention of a big-time Division I football program.
But when the MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament, reality set in.
“Once I found out, I remembered thinking to myself, ‘This [stinks],’” Brown said, with a chuckle. “The weather in Andover is much different from back home [two hours east of the Bay Area]. It was cold. It didn’t feel like home. I remembered thinking to myself that I’d never come back here if I had to.”
Fast forward seven years, and the 26-year-old Brown now roams the Big Blue sideline as the program’s sixth head coach in its 141st season after Modeste ended his 32-year run last November.
A friendship he shared with Jim Ventre, Phillips Andover’s current head of school, ultimately set the stage for Brown’s return to the campus weeks after his ACL tear. Ventre, then the school’s admissions director and a residential counselor, handed Brown a sheet of statistics outlining the astronomical odds a player faced in making the NFL.
“It made me realize that my dream of playing in the NFL was a pretty lofty goal,” Brown said. “He [Ventre] reminded me that I wasn’t at Andover to just play football. He reminded me that my identity was much bigger than that.”
From that day on, Brown adjusted his mind-set. He stayed involved with the Big Blue football team instead of quitting.
“Coach Mo was there for me and gave me a lot of emotional support,” Brown said of Modeste. “He wanted me to know that I was still a part of this team, even while recovering.”
The rest of the season, Brown attended every team practice and film session. With guidance from Ventre, he joined community service groups on campus and formed a close-knit bond with his newfound mentor.
The following season, Brown left Andover for Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where , sadly, he tore his ACL three more times — once in his left knee and twice in his right, including his first carry as a college freshman.
But, again, Brown remembered that his role on the team extended beyond the field.
“A lot of people tell me that it’s insanity to go through the same thing and get the same outcome,” said Brown, who captained the Polar Bears his senior year. “Just being with the guys on the team, though, kept me coming back. It reminded me of the camaraderie of the sport, the reason why I fell in love with the sport to begin with.”
After graduating in 2016, Brown returned to California to manage a poultry plant, but when a position as an admissions counselor opened up at Andover, Ventre reached out to Brown.
“Trey was someone who really stood out as a candidate,” said Lisa Joel, who succeeded Modeste as athletic director while continuing as varsity girls’ soccer coach. “A big part of Andover’s tradition is family and teamwork. Trey really embodied these characteristics better than anyone.”
In addition to his role as an admissions counselor, Brown worked as a running backs/defensive backs coach on Modeste’s staff. His ability to relate made him a favorite among the staff, players and students.
“Trey showed a level of maturity and delivered an immediate impact here at Andover,” said Joel. “He’s a guy who was ready to go from the first moment.”
His work ethic and ability to relate to his players caught Modeste’s attention. In his second year back, Brown was caught by surprise by a comment Modeste made.
“[Modeste ] had told me that he’d be giving me more leniency over the program because he wanted me to take it over one day,” said Brown. “At the time, I didn’t take what he said too seriously.”
The Big Blue finished 3-5 and Modeste announced his retirement. Few questioned his decision when he named Brown as his successor.
“I’m pretty sure any kid on the team could go up to [Brown] and talk to him about their personal lives without worrying about it,” said senior captain Erik Fotta, an offensive lineman from Wenham.
Fotta suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the season opener last fall.
“While I was recovering, he encouraged me to rehab,” Fotta said. “But he also reminded us that football isn’t everything, that there is life after football.”
While incorporating his own schemes and personnel decisions, Brown in his first season at the helm wanted to maintain the same approach Modeste had with his players .
“Everyone at Andover wears a different hat,” Brown said.“If you’re a coach or [staff member], we want to help these kids grow into adults, mentally, physically, and in all aspects of life.”
Even if it means showing them that life does indeed exist beyond the gridiron.
Mike Kotsopoulos can be reached at email@example.com.