SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A few months ago, Tarell Brown's talent was no match for his troubles. The once-sparkling prospect dropped down draft boards, with teams unwilling to bet on a player with a terrible knack for riding in the wrong cars with the wrong friends.
On a quiet morning at the San Francisco 49ers' training complex Monday, Brown was rewarded for his personal and professional strides when the club presented him with the Thomas Herrion Award. The honor is given to the 49ers rookie or first-year player who best exemplifies the spirit of Herrion, the former San Francisco lineman who died two years ago.
Brown, a fifth-round pick from the University of Texas, made the 49ers' 53-man roster Sunday. He'll be a backup and a special-teams player early on, but the club sees promise in the former Longhorns star who fell from the highs of a national title to the lows that began with his arrest on misdemeanor drug and weapons charges last fall.
"I wasn't planning on getting an award," said Brown, a Texas native like Herrion. "I just went out there and worked hard, like I always do. It's a blessing to get this award. I just want to represent it in the way Thomas Herrion would, in a positive way."
Brown, a senior starter with strong pro prospects, was suspended for Texas' key loss to Ohio State last September after a traffic stop. Brown and two friends were arrested when officers said they found a small amount of marijuana in the car and a handgun in Brown's lap.
Though Brown took a drug test to prove he hadn't been using marijuana, he fell under a stigma among scouts that wasn't helped when the Texas secondary struggled last season. Then Brown was arrested three days before the draft when marijuana was found in his cousin's car while Brown was a passenger.
His draft stock kept dropping, but the 49ers chose him with the 147th overall pick. Coach Mike Nolan constantly emphasizes the importance of his prospective players' character, and Nolan felt Brown was a good person with poor luck.
What's more, Nolan knew that Brown's life is built on resilience. His mother died in a shooting when he was 9 years old, and his father had a fatal heart attack shortly before the draft combine in February.
Though all charges against him eventually were dropped, Brown knows he got off to a bad start in adulthood.
"The odds were against me," Brown said. "I had people saying I had baggage coming with me. I don't think that was the case, but I think I overcame that. ... I don't dwell on the past. What happened, happened, but I feel like I can contribute no matter where I was drafted."
The 49ers initiated the award last season in honor of Herrion, the offensive lineman who collapsed and died after a preseason game in Denver on Aug. 20, 2005. Herrion was competing for a roster spot at the time, but his teammates knew him well for his playful personality and teamwork.
Brown started out strong in offseason workouts with the 49ers, and solidified his roster spot with solid play during the preseason. He even won the Thomas Herrion Talent Show along with his fellow defensive backs during a break from camp last month.
"He looks to be a good part of what we do going forward, so I'm excited about that for Tarell," Nolan said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press