TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- As fast as John Brown is - and he is very fast - his route to the NFL was a slow, difficult one.
The Arizona Cardinals' third-round draft pick finally wound up at Pittsburg State, an NCAA Division II school in Kansas, where he had an electrifying career as a receiver and punt returner.
He had bounced around from Mars Hill College in North Carolina, then academic problems sent him to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he didn't make the active roster but still practiced with the team.
About that time, his older brother died of gunshot wounds, and Brown says that, for a minute, he thought about giving up the game.
But he decided to carry on, in Kansas, some 1,400 miles from those awful memories in Homestead, Florida.
''I just wanted to get far away,'' he said.
Pittsburg State, a Division II powerhouse, offered Brown a full scholarship, just based on what they saw of him in Coffeyville's practice. It had been two years when he finally took the field for the Gorillas two seasons ago.
After Pittsburg State held the opponent to a three-and-out, Brown came on to return the punt.
''I told the guys when I first got in, like two months before the season, the first time I touch the ball I'm going to score,'' he told reporters at Cardinals headquarters on Thursday. ''We three-and-outed them and got an 89-yard punt return, and I took it to the house untouched.''
Scouts were well aware of Brown, and he helped himself with his play in the East-West Shrine Game. But his stock rose at the NFL combine, where his 40-yard time of 4.34 seconds was third-fastest of everyone there. Only Dre Archer of Kent State (4.26) and first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks of Oregon State (4.33) were faster.
Arizona coach Bruce Arians loves speed, and he sees Brown in the mold of two other small, fast receivers he coached - T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh. With great speed deep and ''fearless across the middle.''
''It's kind of crazy because every time we talk he mentioned those guys,'' Brown said. ''He believes I can do what those guys do.''
He might get a chance to return punts for Arizona, too. Arians has talked about easing Patrick Peterson out of that role to allow the three-time Pro Bowl player to concentrate on his main job of cornerback.
Ed Stinson, the Alabama defensive end drafted by Arizona in the fifth round, grew up a few blocks from Brown and the two are longtime friends.
Stinson said Brown was ''the slowest kid on the block.''
But as a senior in high school, Brown said he picked up the speed.
No major college showed any interest in him, and in 2008 he played as a freshman for Mars Hill. Academic problems sidelined him for the 2009 season and in 2010 he wound up at Coffeyville, where he never played in a game. The team had a 12-man limit on out-of-state players and Brown said he was No. 13.
In early 2011, Brown's older brother, James Walker - a father figure - died of gunshot wounds sustained nine months earlier in a fight outside a Miami bar.
The death remains a major motivation.
''It just made me a better man,'' Brown said, ''just seeing the stuff that I had to see with my brother, putting up a fight for nine months before he passed. It just taught me a lesson. No matter how hard things get, you can't give up.''
At Pittsburg State, Brown was a three-time Division II All-American.
Now the 5-foot-10, 179-pound receiver is in Arizona, where he, second-round draft pick tight end Troy Niklas of Notre Dame and the team's other third-round pick, defensive end Kareem Martin of North Carolina, signed four-year contracts Thursday.
With a young daughter back in Florida, Brown said he's ready for this latest challenge for a guy who made it to the pros the hard way.
''I've had a chip on my shoulder, a point to prove, since I was little,'' Brown said. ''They told me I wasn't going to be able to play varsity, they told me I wasn't going to start in college and they told me I wouldn't make it to the NFL.''
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