Brun Making Waves In Spring Ball
AMES, Iowa - Iowa State tight end Ernst Brun has come full circle since coming into the Cyclone football program in August of 2011. It didn't start well as Cyclone strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight will attest.
"In our first summer conditioning session, he thought the warm-up was the workout," McKnight said. "He had initially chosen to work with our veterans but he was not ready physically. We had some talks."
Brun remembers it well.
"I could hardly get through warm-ups," Brun said. "I wasn't in good shape. It was rough. I can be stubborn and I was when I got here. I didn't know anyone here. After the first day, I thought about leaving. Now I'm dedicated to making a difference with my teammates."
Brun was born in Boston and can still remember his mother making a hoop her arms while sitting on the family car as Ernst would shoot baskets with a small ball. The Bruns' moved to Stone Mountain, Ga. to better the family's environment. Ernst went to public school in Georgia starting in fifth grade. There was an adjustment to be made.
"My new school was tougher academically," Brun said. "I really struggled to catch up. There was definitely some culture shock. Over time I made the adjustment."
At the same time, Brun was learning that he was more athletic than most of his friends. In football, he made himself a quarterback, a position he would play consistently.
"I could throw the ball 50 or 60 yards in fourth grade," Brun said. "My receivers would come back tired because I was throwing it a long way."
He would play quarterback through the 11th grade.
Basketball was Brun's first love. He played point guard at Shiloh High School and then on one of the nation's best AAU squads, Team Georgia. Current North Carolina State guard Lorenzo Brown, swingman Wesley Witherspoon of Memphis and Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow were on his team. The squad won an AAU national title. Brun received a basketball scholarship offer from the Richmond Spiders.
Brun was still on the prep gridiron, but was under a new coach at Shiloh who was converting his new team to a triple-option offense.
"I was strictly a drop back quarterback," Brun said. "I was not made to be a running quarterback. The coaching staff talked about me moving to tight end. I played quarterback on the junior varsity team on Thursday night and then played tight end on the varsity on Saturday."
Brun was also his team's punter and he ranked among the state's best. But Brun still had much to learn about playing tight end.
"I had played quarterback for a long time," Brun said. "I was a good receiver but had so much to learn about blocking. I was a soft tight end. We were 2-8 my junior and senior seasons."
Brun was still unsure about his future. Now, he was at a fork in the road. After graduation, it all came together quite fast.
"My mother had talked to coaches at Mt. Sac (Community College) in California," Brun said. "Within 48 hours, I was heading west," Brun said.
Like he had faced change as a fifth-grader at the new school in Georgia, Brun faced a new situation in Walnut, Calif.
"I was not used to being alone, away from my family at 17," Brun said. "I had never managed my money, bought my own food and studied on my own. I had a lot to learn."
In the fall of 2009, Brun had 14 catches for 325 yards and four touchdowns for Mt. Sac.
"They told me that I was going to be the man the next year," Brun said. "I had a big year."
Brun had a great sophomore season in 2010, making 51 grabs for 515 yards and four touchdowns. Mt. Sac advanced to the California Community College state title game vs. City College of San Francisco. In preparation for that contest, Brun saw film of two current Iowa State teammates who played at CCSF, quarterback Steele Jantz and wide receiver Aaron Horne.
"Right away, you could see that their quarterback and wide receiver made their team go," Brun said. "To stop them you had to stop Steele Jantz and Aaron Horne. They were CCSF."
Jantz went on to earn the Iowa State starting job at quarterback and led the Cyclones to a 44-41 triple overtime win over Iowa last season. Horne was the 2011 Big 12 Conference offensive newcomer of the year.
But Mt. Sac won the game and went on to claim a second-straight California juco title.
By the time of that title game, Brun had already signed with Iowa State. Brun had visited Ames during midseason on a 2010 Mt. Sac off-week. There were many suitors. Nevada, Kansas State, Washington, Washington State, Kansas State, Memphis, Houston, TCU, Oregon State and Mississippi State showed sustained interest.
From the start and throughout the recruiting period, Iowa State was in the lead.
"I committed on my visit," Brun said. "Iowa State really cared more about me as a person more than the other schools that recruited me. I felt comfortable with a base in Ames. They kept calling me after I committed and I really respected (ISU head coach) Paul Rhoads. I was speechless when I saw the facilities and the atmosphere," he said. "The fans, the people were holding signs with my name. They made me feel really welcome."
Once in school at Iowa State, Brun sat out last season. It was a year of transition for the Cyclone. He has started 2012 spring football with a renewed sense of purpose. He says he turned the corner during practices for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Iowa State tight end coach Luke Wells started to see a change at midseason and not just on the field.
"His work ethic improved steadily after he got here, after a while it was like night and day," Wells said. "It got to the point that coach Rhoads and I would discuss his progress every week and think about taking off the redshirt. I think it turned out well for Ernst. He made major, major progress in his game, particularly as a blocker."
Brun now sports a 6-3, 240-pound frame and will do much more than entertaining opponents as a blocker. Wells said a full-year of workouts and learning on and off the field have suited Brun well.
"Ernst was a two-sport athlete," Wells said. "He never really had an off season. Now, with a full year of strength and conditioning he is like a different athlete. He had already grasped the key elements about being a receiver, including recognizing defenses. But now with his hand down he will be an effective blocker."
"I really benefited from bowl practices and began to understand that you reach your goals through hard work, not talent alone," Brun said. "I love Iowa State and coach Rhoads. I saw that things like going to New York for a bowl game come to those who work hard. I tell my friends that we are going somewhere, that something big is coming."
McKnight saw a change in Brun once the Cyclone knew he was going to be redshirted.
"He was more focused once he knew he had a year to work and improve himself," McKnight said. "Now you know he is doing the things he needs to do."
Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads affirms Brun's introspection.
"Ernst came here with a big learning curve," Rhoads said. "He has made progress in the weight room and on the field. He made steady progress last season and has developed a will to prepare to win, which bodes well for his future."
Rhoads loves Brun's upside. The Cyclone head coach compares Brun to former tight end Collin Franklin, who caught 55 passes in 2010.
"He is a real vertical threat," Rhoads said. "He gives us a playmaker that is getting better in every phase of the game."
We will see soon enough. Spring practice continues with the Iowa State spring game set for 2 p.m. April 14 in Jack Trice Stadium.