Les Brown was already in the midst of a whirlwind year in his quest to go from accountant to NFL player. On Tuesday evening, HBO audiences saw Brown’s dream hit a snag as they watched what had happened over the weekend — Brown got cut.
When “Hard Knocks” started profiling the Dolphins’ training camp, Brown’s remarkable story instantly became good television. Brown hadn’t played football since high school and after a couple years playing college basketball and then working as an accountant, he decided to make a run at the NFL.
“It’s definitely not something you anticipate,” Brown said about his release to PFW in an interview on Wednesday from Miami. In Tuesday night’s episode, we saw Brown start to lose reps on the practice field, which led to his eventual release — he said he had yet to watch the episode.
“I just tried to make the best of the reps that I did have. I wish in a game that I had gotten the ball thrown my way. You always wish for an opportunity to showcase what you can do, but sometimes that doesn’t work out,” he said. “It’s football, there are 11 guys on the field. You’re not always going to be the guy who gets an opportunity to make a play.”
Brown sat behind TEs Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Jeron Mastrud and rookie Michael Egnew on the Dolphins’ depth chart, and he already had an uphill climb. “Hard Knocks” focused on his struggles as a blocker, something GM Jeff Ireland mentioned when he informed Brown of his release.
“A lot of it is technique and lower-body strength,” Brown said. “When I got there, I thought I could go out and fire off the ball and hit someone as hard as I could. You don’t realize how much of it really boils down to technique. You turn on the tape and watch a guy like Anthony Fasano and you see the incredible footwork the guy has, see where he strikes with his hands and rolls with his hips. It’s something you learn through time and repetition.”
Brown’s explanation of what he needs to work on to be a better blocker makes it clear that this is only a hurdle.
“I’m hopeful someone is going to call my number and bring me in and give me a look. I think I have a lot to offer,” he said. “One thing I can guarantee you: I might not be the most polished when it comes to doing certain things on the football field, but (you'd be) hard-pressed to find a guy who is willing to work harder than me.”
Viewers of “Hard Knocks” became invested in Brown’s story, as he was one of the featured players in each episode. The cameras were something different for Brown, whose highest level of athletic competition came playing NAIA basketball.
“It was definitely something new for me. It wasn’t a big deal. I’m not a person who takes myself too seriously. I’m a bit of a goofball and I’m fine with that,” Brown said. HBO never specifically told Brown he’d be a focal point, but the cameras were far from hidden.
“Obviously, you notice when cameras are following you around and they’re miking you up at practice. I knew I would show up somewhere, but I didn’t necessarily know I would show up to the extent that I did,” he said. “You get the idea when you have cameras come up to the hotel room watching you pack your bags, unpack your bags, tie your shoes, whatever.”
The show offers viewers incredible access behind the scenes of NFL teams. Already on this season, viewers saw Chad Johnson get released and Vontae Davis get traded. Brown said that while the cameras could be awkward, the players tried not to make it a distraction.
“At the end of the day, you try to go about your business and pretend that the cameras aren’t there,” he said. “Coach (Joe) Philbin always said ‘look, there’s going to be cameras there on Sunday afternoon or Monday nights, so this is kind of a trial run.’ "
Brown’s story, though, captured the attention of audiences to the point where viewers were rooting for him. He appreciated the positive impact of his role on the show.
“Just to be able to be on the show and for them to take an interest in my story and telling the world my story, it was a blessing,” Brown said. “It’s not like (I went out of my way) to want to be on the show or want everyone to know who I am. Once it did happen and people came out and said, ‘you inspired me to go back to college’ or ‘to go in the weight room and make my high school football team,’ it’s been a real blessing to touch other people’s lives. It’s been a real humbling experience.”
The other side of the coin on Brown’s role in the show is that “Hard Knocks” invited viewers into an emotional scene for Brown. He got fired from his job, and hundreds of thousands of people got to see it on television.
“For me, it’s fine. I wear my heart on my sleeve. When I care about something, I’m not afraid to show emotion,” he said. “I cared a lot about making the Miami Dolphins’ organization. I loved the organization, my coaches and my teammates. It was a tough moment for me. … I think anyone in that position would feel some sort of emotion.
“Hopefully this isn’t the last time people will see me. They’ll see this kid got fired on national television, but he bounced back and he’s doing good things with his life. If people can take a positive message from that, it’s definitely a blessing.”
For a player like Brown, the practice squad is certainly a viable option to allow him to continue to develop into a better blocker, and the Dolphins could be able to offer that this weekend after the Friday evening cuts to 53 players.
“If that was the opportunity that presented itself, I’d jump all over that,” he said. “Obviously I want to be on a (53-man roster) on the field making plays. If it boils down to the fact a team views me as a guy to develop a little bit then I’m more than happy to do that.”
In the spring, Brown told PFW that he was “150 percent” committed to making it in the NFL, and while he certainly has opportunities to make a living elsewhere, he remains focused on his dream.
“I’m going to keep going until someone tells me there’s zero percent chance of me making it,” Brown paused, then added, “I don’t even know if that’s correct either, because when I started this whole process, my odds were close to zero then. I’m going to keep going until I can’t anymore. … I’m not satisfied, and I won’t be until I’m on a team on the field making plays.
“That’s what I dream about at night, what I think about before I go to bed: being on the field on 'Monday Night Football,' catching a touchdown and spiking the ball. That’s what I want and I’ll keep working until I achieve that goal.”