In the wee hours of one morning in 2005, John and Miriam Brown used a roll call to account for their three children before heading off to the airport.
Their flight to Spain was leaving around 6 a.m. from Orange County, California, so in order to prevent a "Home Alone" situation from happening, John checked inside the house one last time.
“Hey, what are you doing?” John asked once he spotted his son.
“I’m walking through the house making sure all of the lights are turned off,” the 6-year-old St. Brown responded.
John describes his son as “always real serious.”
And now -- as his son enters his rookie NFL season as a Detroit Lions fourth-round draft pick at wide receiver -- when John reflects on those childhood moments, he isn't surprised when he hears first-year head coach Dan Campbell gush over his son’s mentality, even early on in the NFL process.
“Man, he’s all business," Campbell said during OTAs. "For a rookie, he’s all business, and you can tell he’s very focused. He’s very detail-oriented for a rookie. He listens to what [wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle] El is telling him. I feel like he knows the playbook pretty good to this point. And there’s just things about him, and you see it and you’re like, ‘OK, there again, he’s a football player.’
“He definitely has taken this serious, and we know he’s got some ability. I would tell you he’s growing, he really is. And not just growing in the receiver room. There’s things he’s doing in Dave Fipp’s area of the field, the special teams, that you’re like, ‘OK, this is pretty good.’ I think he’s right on track. Just keep growing, and small steps every day.”
A boulder on his shoulder
St. Brown made his goal clear during rookie minicamp in May by declaring that he’s “ready to take someone’s job.” As the 112th overall pick, being taken that late still doesn’t sit well with him after a solid college career at USC.
“I’m never going to forget the 15 receivers that went before me in the draft, and that’s kind of the chip that I have on my shoulder coming in with everything that I do,” St. Brown said.
Following Day 2 of draft night, which he watched at his girlfriend's home in Lake Forest, California surrounded by his close friends and family, he was so upset with falling so far that he went outside in the late night to catch more than 200 balls from the JUGs machine. The situation showed him that he needed to go harder.
Over his three seasons in the Pac-12 from 2018-20, St. Brown led the conference in receptions (178) and receiving yards (2,270). In the shortened 2020 Pac-12 season, St. Brown also led the conference in receptions (41) and receiving touchdowns (seven).
“I think it put a huge fire inside of me,” St. Brown told ESPN. “It put a chip on my shoulder, a boulder on my shoulder, and I’m just going to take that with me with whatever I’m doing -- and whenever I don’t feel motivated, I’ll just think of that, and I’ll keep going.”
St. Brown sees an opportunity in Motown that he wants to take advantage of with a new regime and new-look roster in effect, led by quarterback Jared Goff.
Quintez Cephus, a 2020 fifth-round rookie, is the only returning Lions wide receiver who had a catch for the team last season. Beyond drafting St. Brown this offseason, the Lions added Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond and Damion Ratley, who combined for 32 receptions and 552 yards last season, which doesn’t look strong on paper, but Goff -- a fellow California native -- is “really excited” to work with St. Brown.
“I was really excited when I saw his name come off the board for us,” Goff said. “I’ve seen him, just being a fan of the Pac-12. I’ve watched him over the years play there, and I know he went to Mater Dei [High School] as well, but just seeing him play over the years, I’ve always been a fan of his.”
Brothers fueled St. Brown's competitiveness
Being challenged and hearing constructive criticism is nothing new for St. Brown.
As a child, he grew frustrated while being dominated by his older brothers, Equanimeous and Osiris, but it also pushed him to fight to prove that he belonged.
“Before we lifted, we would go play basketball, and we would do one-on-ones," Osisis said. "So my older brother [Equanimeous] would do one-on-ones against my younger brother [Amon-Ra], and my older brother would obviously be way taller, older and stronger. So he would do bully ball on him, and I think that kind of always fueled his competitiveness.
"I feel like being around us all the time, we’ve always been older and stronger, so he always had to push harder to try and keep up with us, whether it be lifting, basketball or anything.”
Osiris, 23, is close to graduation with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology and society from Stanford University after wrapping up his college football career. His focus is now starting his own business and other ways of making money outside of football.
Equanimeous, 24, is entering his third year as a receiver for the Green Bay Packers. He says they never took it easy on his youngest brother, no matter how old he was, and insists “he’s never beat me in one-one-one” even to this day.
They will face each other twice this year as NFC North division rivals.
“I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t want him to go to the Lions," Equanimeous told ESPN. "I don’t see that as an organization that I want him to go to, but they need receivers, so hopefully he’ll go out there and play. You can’t choose what team you go to, but as a Packer, I’d rather him come to us. I’d rather we had drafted him, but now I’ve got to play him every year twice.
“I know that we’re gonna beat them, so what can you say? I’m on the Packers, he’s on the Lions, so I can’t really talk s--- you know?”
In all seriousness, Equanimeous is projecting his youngest brother to be able to contribute right away with a breakout season.
“He’s gonna be one of the, if not the, top receiver in the NFL for rookies this year,” Equanimeous said. “Just based on me knowing his mentality, him being drafted in the fourth round and him having a pretty good opportunity to play right away in Detroit with a decent quarterback. I think he’ll have a great year.”
Raised by Mr. Universe
Their father, John, was a two-time Mr. Universe and three-time Mr. World, who bred his boys to be unique, starting with their names.
Amon-Ra is the Egyptian sun god, Osiris is the Egyptian god of the underworld and Equanimeous comes from the word equanimity -- which is defined in the dictionary as “evenness of mind especially under stress.”
John added “St.” to their last name for sports purposes because he thought “St. Brown” would look cooler on the back of their jerseys instead of plain old Brown.
“I explained that to them when they were probably like two years old,” John said. “I would tell them to line up. I would blow a whistle, and that means toe to line, and they all had to line up from the tallest to the shortest, and they had to stand with their hand like soldiers. Hands to the side, head straight while I’m talking to them, because there’s moments in life where I need my son’s undivided attention to explain certain things in life.”
St. Brown started lifting PVC pipes in the garage with his brothers as early as 6 years old. Their father went so far as to develop a personal protein product he now sells named Cane Protein, catered to his children after seeing what the schools were feeding them in kindergarten. Initially he didn’t sell it; he just kept it for the family for an advantage over other kids.
A rare mindset
On Monday, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) also announced that St. Brown was included in the NFLPA Rookie Premiere Class of 2021 as one of the league’s most marketable rookie stars, in addition to signing on as a community ambassador for Unite Health Share Ministries (UHSM) to promote nutrition and healthy living for the Christian healthcare organization.
That meal prepping, planning and lifelong guidance is why the Lions are seeing the early stages of a player whose mindset Campbell describes as somewhat rare.
Now, St. Brown has to put all of the pieces together on the field.
“I hate to call it rare, but I don’t think you see a lot of it," Campbell said of St. Brown’s mindset. "A lot of it -- it’s not anybody else’s fault, sometimes they just don’t know. They don’t know. They don’t even know what it takes. They don’t know what it’s supposed to look like. But this kid, you can tell, some people have shaped him the right way and have taught him these things. And he’s taken it to heart, because he does, his approach is just a little bit different. There’s a little bit more of an edge and seriousness about him and look, I kind of like that.”