It was inevitable while growing up that Freddie Brown would be called Downtown Freddie Brown, after the former NBA basketball player.

These days, though, the Utah receiver is sporting a new nickname, in fact a couple of them. Call him First-down Freddie Brown or Touchdown Freddie Brown.

Both are appropriate after Brown's heroics, along with those of quarterback Brian Johnson, in the recent come-from-behind victory over TCU, which kept Utah's Mountain West Conference title and BCS bowl hopes alive.

First, Brown caught a critical fourth-down pass from Johnson to keep the Utes' final drive going. Then, a couple of minutes later, he caught the 9-yard touchdown pass that gave Utah a thrilling 13-10 victory.

When asked about it this week, Brown said, "It was exhilarating, probably more so after, than during the game. We're just so focused on the game and executing that I don't pay attention to outside factors. We were very composed on that last drive."

So far, Brown has been perhaps the most surprising player on this year's Ute team.

Everyone knew what Johnson could do as a quarterback, that Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack were bruising runners who would get their yards, that Paul Kruger was a great defensive end and that Louie Sakoda was an outstanding kicker.

But who would have guessed that, through 10 games, Brown would have already surpassed his career totals from the previous three seasons to become the leading receiver on the team?

Coming into this season, Brown had 39 total catches for 458 yards and no touchdowns. This year, Brown already has 46 catches for 568 yards and five touchdowns, best on the team in all three categories.

So what has been the big difference in Brown's game this year?

Part of it is the opportunity to play more. He played behind Derrek Richards and Brian Hernandez the last two years, but Bradon Godfrey and Brent Casteel were expected to be the main receivers this year along with Jereme Brooks and newcomer David Reed.

"He's just been more assertive," said U. receivers coach Aaron Roderick. "He's accepted the challenge of being an every-down player. We challenged him to do that, and he's doing a great job. Now we can hardly take him out of the game."

Roderick said Brown is on the field for approximately 60 snaps a game, similar to Godfrey, who is right behind Brown with 44 receptions this year. He said although Brown's speed is just slightly above-average, his size (6-foot-4), ability to change directions and his "very good" hands make him a great receiver.

The soft-spoken Brown showed his team-first mentality when he was asked about the difference in his game this year.

"The maturity level and experience that we've gained," he said. "We've been together four years now, and we're getting a lot more comfortable and we're still improving."

But what about YOU, Freddie?

"The opportunity," he said, simply. "I'm trying to do my best in terms of getting the opportunity."

Coach Kyle Whittingham can't say enough good things about his senior receiver.

"Freddie's a great kid and nobody's more deserving (of success)," he said. "He's humble, he's competitive, he's high character — he's everything you want in a student-athlete."

Roderick echoes Whittingham in saying of Brown, "He's an awesome kid. He comes from a good family and is a very polite and respectful kid. He's a guy who tries to do everything right on and off the field. I want to coach more guys like him."

Brown takes the student part of student-athlete seriously. He completed his degree in human development and family studies last spring and is taking classes toward a second major this fall.

His parents are both educators and his mother is Korean, so he grew up learning a second language in his home.

"Academics were a priority," he said. "I went to a private Catholic school my whole life and education was stressed. Being a student-athlete, student comes before athlete. It's important to do well academically."

Coming from La Verne, Calif., east of Los Angeles, Brown chose Utah because "everything clicked" for him from the coaching staff to the players to the city and the family-type atmosphere.

"I knew this was where I needed to be," he said. "It's been the experience of a lifetime, and I'm so grateful to have been a part of it."

And now he's a big part of one of the best college football teams in the country and will get to play in front of family and friends this week when the Utes play at San Diego State Saturday.

"I'm excited for what we have going on right now," he said.

Utes on the air

No. 8 Utah (10-0, 6-0) at San Diego State (1-9, 0-6)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Qualcomm Stadium,

San Diego

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 700 AM

Live game

Freddie Brown's career stats

Year ... Catches ... Yards ... TDs

2005 ... 5 ... 43 ... 0

2006 ... 17 ... 196 ... 0

2007 ... 20 ... 219 ... 0

2008 ... 46 ... 568 ... 5