Editor's note: This story has been updated after originally running in August, 2018.
ATLANTA – When it comes to improbable storylines, here is one few saw coming in March 2018: quarterback Tom Brady answering questions on Opening Night at Super Bowl LIII about top-notch protection from new left tackle Trent Brown.
“Trent has been incredible for us. To come in and embrace everything he’s been asked to do is just incredible,” Brady said Monday as thousands of reporters filled State Farm Arena. “[The line] is the heart and soul of our offense.”
How the Patriots would fill the void at left tackle was a top question entering the season after Nate Solder signed with the New York Giants as a free agent. Brown has exceeded all expectations in starting every game.
Though the first thing that stands out about him is his size – he is the biggest player in the NFL at 6-foot-8 and 380 pounds – it became clear over the course of the year that focusing only on his physical appearance ignores a different side of him.
The big guy has a big heart.
“He does, and it’s almost to his detriment. I have to remind him oftentimes that he can’t save people who don’t want to be saved,” Tiffany Brown said from Albany, Georgia, where she and husband Reginald raised the NFL player who wears a size 18 cleat. “I tell him, ‘You have to be careful of people taking advantage of you.’ He’s a sweetheart.”
Based on the way he physically mauls defenders on the field, those words might be the last thing you would expect to hear about the 25-year-old Brown.
But mention the role that Reginald and Tiffany have played in his life, and he flashes a disarming smile of compassion.
“I was, for sure, over-blessed before I even opened my eyes on this earth. God, for sure, blessed me with two angels as parents,” he said. “I really, really, really don’t feel like there’s anything I can do to repay them, but I’m for sure going to try to give back those blessings that they’ve done for me.”
Reginald and Tiffany say they don’t expect a thing, and that their blessing is watching their son live his dream while remaining humble. A professional football player? It wasn’t part of their wildest imagination when they had their youngest of two boys first try gymnastics, at the local YMCA, when he was 3 years old.
Then, not long after Trenton Jacoby Brown enrolled in elementary school, he experienced an aggressive growth spurt. In the fourth grade, he wore a size 10 shoe. By the time he went to middle school, Reginald and Tiffany were shopping in the men’s department for his clothes.
On the football field, that meant the youngster who first played quarterback and running back would be moved to the offensive line. And blending in with friends his age was a challenge at times, which is why he often played with those older than him.
“As he was growing up, he was always the big kid, bigger than all his classmates and more often than not, bigger than his teammates,” said Tiffany, who at 5-foot-7 played volleyball in high school and later worked in education. “Sometimes we reminded the adults around him, he’s still a child, no matter how tall, how big.”
That wasn’t a problem at home, where Trent and his brother Reggie Jr. knew that there were two non-negotiable rules to follow: Be home for a family dinner each night, and set the table. Trent might have picked up a culinary tip along the way, as Tiffany says, "He's a pretty darn good cook. There's not much he can't cook."
Family bonds can be strengthened at the dinner table, and it was there, among other places, that Reginald – who is in his 25th year on the police force in Albany and used to work security at Hugh Mills Stadium when former Patriots receiver Deion Branch played football there – would often pass along words of wisdom.
At 6-foot-7, Reginald is an imposing figure himself, having played professional basketball in China. Despite being born a few weeks early, Trent still measured 22 inches while weighing 6 pounds, 9 ounces.
“I always believed in him, had confidence in him even when he didn’t think he could succeed at something, backed him 100 percent,” Reginald said. “But I also held him accountable. When it wasn’t so good, I told him the truth.”
The message was often straightforward: Always do your best. People are always watching. Always try to be a great person and help others.
Brown wasn’t a highly touted prospect entering the NFL, slipping to the seventh round of the 2015 draft after two years as a part-time starter at the University of Florida. Before that, he spent two years at Georgia Military College.
A year of development mostly behind the scenes with the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie in 2015 laid the foundation for him to break through in the following season as a full-time starter – 15 games at right tackle, one at left tackle. He kept the job into 2017 before a shoulder injury ended his season after 10 games.
Then came a confluence of events in March 2018 that landed him in New England. First, the Patriots lost Solder. Then the 49ers – who have Joe Staley locked in at left tackle -- drafted Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey with their first-round pick. With Brown entering the final year of his contract, the 49ers were willing to trade him and a fifth-round pick (No. 143) in exchange for a third-rounder (No. 95).
Even with the Patriots selecting Georgia left tackle Isaiah Wynn with their highest first-round pick (No. 23), Brown has been the top left tackle since his arrival, and he built a quick rapport with Brady.
“Tom is the coolest guy. It’s really great to see somebody with all the accolades being the way he is, so down to earth,” he said earlier in the season, adding that it makes him that much more motivated to ensure Brady's blind side is well protected.
Though Brown’s primary experience in the NFL had come at right tackle, he said his past experience at left tackle -- going back to junior college and then in two games with the 49ers -- gave him confidence and made it a “pretty easy transition.” Also, having played in three different offensive systems in the NFL, including Chip Kelly’s up-tempo attack in 2016, sparked his belief in the versatility of his playing style.
That belief has landed him in a spot of which he could only have dreamed: Super Bowl LIII.
“It’s like I said in my first interview, God makes no mistakes," Brown said. "I’ve just been trying to find my way, get in line with everything here, and it’s worked out. I knew there was no better place to have that opportunity.”
As for the topic that seems to follow him everywhere -- his uncommon size -- he fully embraces it.
“God blessed me with size and ability. If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I look at everything as a blessing. God doesn’t make any mistakes.”
He’s the big man with a big heart for his family, carrying out one of the biggest responsibilities in the NFL, in large part due to lessons learned from his parents.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” he said. “I can for sure say that. Without a doubt.”