Braun Big in Every Sense of the Word

  • By Stephanie Murphy and Caroline Szwed
  • |
  • September 30, 2012 03:38 PM
  • |
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - BIG - The 2012 Senior CLASS Award is a BIG deal. Created by Premier Sports Management in 2001, this prestigious award promotes accomplishments in four categories of all-around achievement.

Also a big deal, the National Football Foundation’s Campbell Trophy, is considered by many to be the “Academic Heisman.”

Even bigger, West Virginia University’s Offensive Guard Jeff Braun has been nominated for both awards. A nomination for either of these awards requires dedication to the classroom, character, community, and sportsmanship.

The country’s best athletes are included in these nomination lists, and while the number has been narrowed to semi-finalists, the designation is, well … BIG.

Webster’s Dictionary lists the adjective with numerous definitions, all of which describe Braun. He was one of the 30 NCAA Division I football players to be nominated for the 2012 Senior Class Award last week, and one of 147 for the Campbell Trophy.

One only has to meet the two-time All Big East Academic Athlete, Garrett Ford Honor Roll designee, and consistent Dean’s List student to be prompted to consider the word “big.”

Big, adj.- Large or great in dimensions, bulk.

At 6-feet-5 and 321 pounds, Braun obviously fits Webster’s first definition. While his size is handy on the field, it has also been one of the greatest contributing factors to Braun’s development off the field as well. But not the way you might think.

Braun’s stature always made him stand out. At 11 years old, Braun was especially vulnerable from the recent death of his father, and being different in middle school was an invitation to taunting. The pain of bullying was acute, and constant teasing from classmates caused Braun to dislike school. He began making up excuses to stay home.

“I lost interest in everything. I would rather be at home,” said Braun. “I had battles with my mom; I told her I was sick, I just didn’t want to see those people. That’s what made me into an introvert today.”
The harassment at school progressed, resulting in a power struggle with another boy, who ultimately stabbed Braun in the hand with a pen. While he shed tears in private, Braun refused to tell. He would not be a tattle. Naturally, anger and depression began to simmer.

Fortunately, Braun’s aunt was trained as an educator to recognize the symptoms, and interfered. The family made a decision to move him to another school, and to give Braun an outlet. Football was the obvious choice.

“My aunt saw how kids were shaped and molded as they came into her high school and where they headed next,” said Braun. “There were some warning signs in middle school that I was not going in the right direction.”

Still, Braun was so big, that he was over the size and weight requirements to play in local football leagues. His family, who he credits for guiding him safely through childhood, enrolled him on a travel team nearby.

In the movies, this might be the point where the victim would become the hero, and those who hurt him would change. But this was real life, and it was not the end of Braun’s problems.

Because he did not play with kids in his new school, they accused him of lying about any success he had on the field. This was compounded by an eighth grade math teacher, who insisted he wasn’t ‘fast enough’ to do well. Football was also not the sport of choice in Westminster, Md. Lacrosse dominated the talk and aspirations of his neighbors. That, as it turned out, was a good thing.

Big, adj.- Outstandingly worthy, or able.

Able to concentrate on the joy of playing without the complications that come with the community stage presence, Braun’s growth as a high school football player was complimented by Braun’s growth in maturity.

“Looking back now, it really changed me in a positive way,” said Braun. “Not everyone is that lucky.”

Braun entered high school as a 6-feet-1, weighing in at 260 pounds.

“As cruel as the way they had said it was, I was BIG,” said Braun. “It hit me, ‘I can’t change that I’m a big guy, so what can I do to utilize it?’ That’s when football really heated up for me.”

As a sophomore Braun was the youngest player and the only one on both sides of the ball to be listed as first team all-county. He began to develop into more than just a successful athlete. Braun’s earlier experience with bullying took on new meaning for him, and he was able to see himself, and peer pressure, differently.

“Once I got to high school and I started to play football and had success, a lot of it stopped,” said Braun. “And a lot of those people [who taunted him] were on my team. Now looking at it, becoming friends with some of those guys you can see that they weren’t trying to tear you down, they were just trying to do the ‘normal’ thing, to be cool … which is sad. It made me realize I’m a better person for it.”

The fresh perspective for Braun’s teen years added to his positive character. He did not hold any grudges or dwell on the past.

Confident that he could succeed and enjoy football, he set his own long and short term goals, and by sticking to a path that he saw as right, he reached them.

“Goals and dreams to me are hand-in-hand,” said Braun. “Everything was about setting a bar for myself. I made a serious commitment to them. I don’t remember what made me think of things that way, but on the side of my high school ring it says, ‘Our Dreams.’”

Braun didn’t apply college to those dreams until he attended WVU Football Camp during high school. His football awards were lining up on his shelf at home, but it was the visit to Milan Puskar Stadium that impacted the extent of his goals.

“I’m in this huge stadium, and I’m like, ‘Wow,’” said Braun. “I didn’t realize this is what college football was like. I knew I needed to go to college, but I had no way of paying for it. From there, my next goal was set.”

Again doing the right things, Braun obtained the grades required for play, racked up amazing statistics on the field, and got his scholarship offer from Coach Bill Stewart. Once that dream was achieved, Braun continued to center on making himself even bigger, along the way discovering that he could make a difference to others as well.

Big, adj.- Of great importance, or significance.

Braun applied himself to being BIG at WVU. He enthusiastically volunteered for no less than eight activities including Stepping Stones, attending the Children’s Hospital, working with the Boys and Girls Club, representing the football team by visiting residents of a retirement home, and speaking out against sexual assault in the Morgantown Walk-A-Mile in Her Shoes event. He once visited a terminally ill Mountaineer fan upon request.

Raised by a loving female household, Braun was impacted most by his experience with the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center education he received while participating in the Walk-A-Mile in Her Shoes.

“The thing that struck me most was this woman who approached me during the walk,” said Braun. “She told me her story, and thanked me for speaking out. It impacted her that we showed that we cared about the issue. I realized we can actually change a person’s life.”

So Braun intentionally set out to continue his anti-violence message by volunteering for the campus Green Dot Prevention program, a movement supported by WELLWVU.

“I always wanted to have an effect on the bullying issue,” said Braun. “I felt that Green Dot would point me in the direction of what I wanted to do. Kids are affected so deeply. It’s sad to see, when all it is, is just words. I’m in a position to show that you don’t have to be defined by what these people say, I can use this to make a difference.”

According to WELLWVU’s Sam Wilmoth, the Green Dot movement focuses on power-based personal violence.

“It’s violence that will happen in interpersonal relationships that has at its core a desire to overpower someone, to take their will away,” said Wilmoth.

In order to promote a social change, Green Dot shows students a map containing red dots that symbolize acts of violence, or the possibility of violence from a failure to respond to those acts, occurring in a moment in time. The movement creates change by teaching methods to deter the red dots. The methods include direct and indirect safe alternatives that essentially create multiple green dots, acting as a barrier to a violent act.

Big, adj.-Magnanimous, generous.

The phrase “Any given Saturday” often applies to college football players. But Braun’s participation in Green Dot also began on a hot Saturday in June. He volunteered a full off-day, during his summer break, to take the program’s 6 hour Bystander Training course. That act, was also big, as that is the time that he would normally spend with his family.

“The amount of time that it took was huge,” said Braun. “That meant I couldn’t go home to visit. It was just like a classroom day.”

Braun wasn’t the only WVU athlete to spend his day off in the basement of Stansbury Hall. Junior football player Anthony Gutta, and sophomore basketball player Gary Browne also took the training.

“I wanted to help because this is a great, positive program that people on our campus need to know about,” said Browne.

The commitment did not go unnoticed by Wilmoth.

“Athletes have a kind of influence over their peers that a lot of us don’t always [have],” said Wilmoth. “When they give up a big portion of their Saturday to do something like a bystander training … that is touching enough for anyone to care enough to do that. When I think about it I get goose bumps.”

Jeff Braun understands his point.

“If you took football away, I am just a regular guy,” said Braun, grinning as he added, “bigger maybe. That’s how society is, just because I play on T.V. and my name’s in print, it makes me bigger than who I am. This has made me realize that I have the power, even just in one moment, to brighten someone’s day, and help. I don’t see it as an obligation, I see it as an opportunity.”

Big, adj.-Full, resonant.

Braun’s effect on others, and his nomination for these awards is proof positive that his character now dwarfs his size. He resonates determination, intelligence, and modesty.

“When I heard about [the 2012 CLASS], I looked on ESPN to check it out,” said Braun. “There are some big names on there. I am just humbled by the comparison.”

Former WVU basketball stand-out Da’Sean Butler was once of those big names, and in fact won the Senior CLASS Award in 2010. Butler also spent time in the community, helping children stay comfortable in the classroom. His mission was to encourage youth to make good choices, and he was happy to help. Now attending graduate school and assisting the WVU Men’s Basketball team, Butler hopes to pass the same qualities to his players.

“I had an opportunity that makes me think about the combination of community, school, and love of sport,” said Butler. “I am proud of what I did and that I could leave my stamp in a positive way on West Virginia.”

Butler, who was told of his own award in the locker room during the Final Four, also congratulates Braun, and had this to say to his counterpart:

“Just the fact that you received a nomination means that you are an amazing human being,” said Butler. “You are representing your school and your sport well, and doing a great job as an athlete. I hope nothing but the best for you!”

While the word “big” may be the first to cross your mind when you meet Jeff Braun, remember the many implications of the word. Those three little letters carry a lot of meaning when applied to Big Jeff Braun, the soon-to-be alum of West Virginia University.

Finalists for both awards will be announced throughout the coming football season. In addition, the 2012 CLASS Award will present the opportunity for fans to vote for their player of choice.


Jeff Braun, Lowes Senior CLASS Award, West Virginia University Mountaineers, WVU