Liberty Bowl is homecoming for Georgia's Marlon Brown

MEMPHIS -- The last time Marlon Brown played a football game in his hometown of Memphis, he was a very big deal -- the star player at Harding Academy, a high school All-American, the object of an intense recruiting battle between Tennessee and Georgia.

He'll play his first game here in two years Friday, when Georgia faces Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.

As with so many high school stars, Brown's transition to major-college football has been a reality check.

In two seasons at Georgia, the 6-foot-5, 219-pound wide receiver has yet to start a game and has caught only 12 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown. That falls far short of what his Memphis fans -- and recruiting analysts -- forecast when, as a senior at Harding in 2008, he had 1,785 all-purpose yards and scored 19 touchdowns and was ranked the No. 2 wide-receiver prospect in the nation by scout.com.

On trips home, Brown finds that some of his old friends understand the difference between high school and college, while others demand to know why he hasn't put up the numbers in the SEC that he put up at Harding.

"I tell them, ‘Be patient,'" Brown said Wednesday. "I'm patient. So they have to wait, too."

The slow start to Brown's UGA career doesn't seem to have tested the patience of coach Mark Richt or offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, both of whom say Brown has worked diligently and made steady progress and should break through in his two remaining seasons.

"His day is coming," Richt said this week. "I think he's going to be outstanding."

Said Bobo: "I feel very confident with him and his progression."

Brown played his high school ball at a private school in Tennessee's smallest classification, making for an even larger than usual leap in competition when he arrived at Georgia.

"When he first came in, there was a pretty big discrepancy ... in the talent base he was competing against," Richt said. "So it took him just a little while, in my opinion, to get used to the speed and athleticism of the guys."

"When he's in the game, last year I might have been a little concerned about him doing some things," Bobo said. "But right now I have no issues with him being in the game and making plays."

He hasn't had many opportunities to make plays, in part because of the talented wide receivers ahead of him in Georgia's pecking order -- A.J. Green, Kris Durham and Tavarres King.

"We have used [Brown] more to block than anything to this point; he's an outstanding blocker," Richt said. "It's not because he doesn't have great receiving skills, but when you've got A.J. and Durham and Tavarres, guys who have been out there a little longer and been playmakers for us, he hasn't had a chance to make as many plays."

Said Bobo: "Statistically, he's probably not where we thought he might be, but it's just that a lot of our offense runs through A.J. right now."

With Durham, a senior, playing his final college game in the Liberty Bowl and Green, a junior, expected to turn pro, there should be no shortage of opportunities for Brown next season.

"I think he's going to have an outstanding season next year," Bobo said.

"He's going to come into his own, I think, this next year," Green said.

When Brown signed with Georgia over Tennessee and Ohio State in February 2009, he said one reason for his choice was that the Bulldogs' system allowed receivers to come in and play early. While that didn't prove to be the case with him, he said Wednesday that he "definitely" made the right college choice, "loves" Athens and, football-wise, is "catching on."

"Some [Tennessee] fans out there are still bitter at me," he said. "But you got to move on, man. That was two years ago."

Asked if he expects a breakthrough season next year, Brown smiled. "Yeah, definitely," he said. "Point-blank, I've got to step up."

This week, he is the Bulldogs' resident expert on their bowl site. One of two Georgia players from Memphis -- the other, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Austin Long, hasn't played in a game for the Dogs because of back surgery -- Brown has been advising teammates on where to find the city's best barbecue and wings.

He expects a lot of family members and friends at the game Friday and has heard that 150 Harding Academy students, parents, faculty members and alumni will sit in one section of the stadium.

Whether they'll get to cheer a big play by Brown, as they have so many times before in Memphis, remains to be seen.

"It'd be real special for me, my friends and my family if that happened," Brown said. "I've been practicing a few plays, whatever, so maybe. ..."

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Brown's UGA stats

Year G/GS Rec. Yds. TD

2009 8/0 2 15 0

2010 11/0 10 125 1

Total 19/0 12 140 1