A perfect start: Illini running back, ex-Centennial volleyball standout begin life as newlyweds

A perfect start: Illini running back, ex-Centennial volleyball standout begin life as newlyweds

CHAMPAIGN — Wedding planning was conducted around football for Dre and Lindsay Brown. A three-week window in May for the redshirt junior running back and his Centennial grad fiancée quickly became one.

Dre graduated from Illinois with his bachelor's degree the second weekend of the month. One of Lindsay's friends got married the next weekend. That left Memorial Day weekend for the wedding and a honeymoon trip to Jamaica before Dre's summer workouts started.

"The venue was the hardest part," said Lindsay, a key contributor on Centennial's volleyball team that placed third in state in Class 3A during the 2012 season. "Once we got that, everything was very easy. Our wedding was more of a party, a celebration."

"The wedding was amazing," Dre added. "It was all my worlds colliding. High school friends. College friends. Both my families. Both her families. It was beautiful. A perfect night."

This year's Illinois training camp is Dre's first as a married man. It's also the first he's been able to participate in after torn ACLs — right knee in 2015 and left knee in 2016 — robbed him of his first two seasons and had him still in recovery mode last August.

"My last ACL torn was in 2016," Dre said. "I feel like I've finally healed from that. It usually takes one, maybe two years, to get your swagger back. I kind of feel like I have that now, and I've just got to keep working."

Dre met Lindsay, who played volleyball in college at Indiana Wesleyan, after his second torn ACL. He's hardly been healthy during their time together.

"She was with me from really the bottom," Dre said. "It was amazing finding someone who's such a humble girl who stuck with me through the hard times. That's why I married her."

Lindsay's own athletic background gave her a better idea of what Dre was going through during his recovery. A sprained ankle was as injured as she'd ever been, but she watched teammates deal with serious injuries.

"I've seen my good friends go through that and how hard it was for them not to play," Lindsay said. "It's honestly weirder now for me that he is healthy. We've been together for two years, and this is the first six months of him being healthy."

Training camp meant an early split for the newlyweds. The players all live together in at the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign — something Illini coach Lovie Smith said he talked about with his only married player.

"I talked with Dre a little bit about when you're a newlywed you want to spend as much time as you can with your wife," Smith said. "It's an adjustment for them right now, but one that he chuckled about."

Lindsay had a plan, though. With training camp on the schedule, she booked a vacation to Florida the first week.

"I knew this was coming," she said. "It's going to suck, for sure. Because I played volleyball in college, our first year dating we had preseason the same weeks. I know hard it is to communicate and how hard it is you don't get to see other until 10 p.m. I'll probably be with all my girlfriends a lot."

Dre's roommate this month instead is fellow running back Reggie Corbin.

"He's a role model, man," Corbin said. "He's always been mature. That's why he's doing so well after his injuries. To be able to be around a guy like that all the time is good. He keeps me on my toes. He's mature. You can tell by the way he lives his life."

Dre made his Illinois debut on Oct. 7 at Iowa — 992 days after joining the Illini in January 2015 as an early enrollee after a standout prep career at DeKalb. He ultimately missed six games in 2017, but got his first career start in the season finale against Northwestern.

"I wasn't as emotional as his mom was," Lindsay said. "His mom was bawling every time he touched the ball. For me, I think it was really cool. I grew up in Champaign and grew up going to football games. I'd seen him work hard. He deserved it."

That start came after Dre did a little bit of everything last season.

"Last year was a weird year," he said. "I think I went through every progression. I went from not playing to scout team. After scout team, I played special teams for a little bit. Then I was the backup running back, and then I finally got to start. It took me through every level of what you can do as an offensive player. I learned a lot in one season."

Dre publicly questioned whether football was still in his future after his second torn ACL. Now that he's fully healthy heading into a season for the first time since high school, he intends to stay that way. Making sure he does everything in his power to stay healthy is a goal. So is taking advantage of every moment he gets on the field.

"He really wants to prove himself this year because he's never really gotten that opportunity," Lindsay said. "He's worked so hard this summer. We've bought so many mobility things and foam rollers. He's always doing stuff when we're at home. He's way more locked in."

The Browns are locked in on married life, too.

"Married for life, you know?" Dre said. "It's a long road. I've found the girl of my dreams. It's awesome to be married. A couple months in, I think I'm doing pretty good."

Lindsay's verdict after hearing Dre's self evaluation?

"He's doing great," she said with a laugh.