ASHDOWN, Ark. — Montaric Brown grew up here, in a small town tucked into the southwest corner of Arkansas, about 10 miles from Texas, 23 miles from Oklahoma and 55 miles from Louisiana.
Ashdown’s position between the Little River to the north and the Red River to the south — not to mention the sprawling forests that surround it — means the lumber industry always has played an outsized role in the town’s economy. The Domtar paper mill is a major employer here.
So it is only natural, then, that Brown — Ashdown’s favorite son who will join the Arkansas Razorbacks football team in the coming weeks — is known for bringing the wood.
“If he lays a lick on you,” Ashdown running back Tre Green said, “you’ll remember it.”
Brown was one of the highest-rated recruits in Arkansas’ 2017 signing class. Given that fact and the Razorbacks’ lack of safety depth, Brown should compete for immediate playing time.
Folks around Ashdown are proud and thrilled as can be, especially considering the flood of athletic talent — much of it stemming from the same bloodline — coming out of their town. Brown is the most prominent among them and takes great pride in being a role model here.
“There are a lot of kids around town that, when they see me, come and get an autograph, shake my hand or just say hi,” Brown said. “I embrace that. I want to be a leader.”
‘That’s what makes him better’
Brown’s talents on the gridiron are many. He returned an interception for a touchdown in each of the first three games of his junior season, prompting Ashdown coach Matt Richardson to tell his offensive coordinator to find a role for Brown on offense. As a senior, Brown caught 52 passes for 813 yards and 7 touchdowns.
His favorite thing, though, always has been hitting. He can come down into the box and make sound tackles. He can burst into the backfield to break up an option play.
But nothing makes his eyes light up like a receiver cutting across the middle of the field and into his zone.
“I’ve seen him get some big guys,” Ashdown quarterback Jaden Hill said. “Just fold ’em over. It’s crazy.
“He’s already fast and can jump, but he sees things better than the next guy. That’s what makes him better than a lot of other guys. He can make plays and see things that other people can’t see.”
His tackling is what initially caught Richardson’s eye when Brown was in junior high.
Brown knows that once he gets to Fayetteville, he will have to add weight. He’s probably still a little too lanky to lay some of those hits in the SEC.
In Arkansas Class 4A football, though? Brown became feared as he roamed the middle of the field. He grinned as he described the frustration of noticing opposing receivers doing their best to avoid him, something that he said happened a bunch last year.
Brown committed to the Razorbacks last summer, and Arkansas was able to hold off some late interest from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Few people actually know it, but much of the current talent surge in Ashdown is blood-related.
Brown, Hill, Green, LaDarrius Bishop and Tajhnick Bishop are cousins.
Hill will be a senior in the fall and is committed to play baseball at LSU, although he has some big football offers as well. Green has offers from Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe and hopes to earn more throughout his senior season.
Tajhnick Bishop will be a freshman at Louisiana-Monroe this fall.
LaDarrius Bishop is a 3-star cornerback prospect for 2018 with offers from Arkansas, Baylor, Iowa State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State and Purdue, among others.
“I know them, how to get to each and every one of them,” Hill said. “I know how to reach them and push them. I can get in their face; they can get in mine. We know it’s nothing personal.”
Richardson said he’s seen those familial relationships play out in a special way.
“They’ll call each other out,” Richardson said. “One hundred percent. They might not call another kid out, but when you’ve known this guy since birth, I’ll tell you what I’m really thinking, and if you don’t like it, I don’t really care.”
Brown hopes that LaDarrius Bishop will join him in Fayetteville next year, but for now, he will have to adjust to a new life with new teammates in a new part of the state.
Arkansas beat writer Jason Kersey is traveling around the country visiting the Razorbacks’ 2017 signees for SEC Country’s “NextGen” series. Read his past 2017 NextGen stories at this link.