EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Columbus, Indiana is home to approximately 45,000 people, perhaps none more popular right now than Stevie Brown.
Brown, a former star at Columbus East High School, was always well-received when he returned there as a University of Michigan student or after his first two NFL seasons. But this year the folks in his hometown really opened their arms wide to Brown. They expressed their pride after a breakout pro season in which he started 11 games and intercepted eight passes for a Giants-record 307 return yards.
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PHOTOS: TRAINING CAMP PRACTICE](http://www.giants.com/photos/all-photos.html) "It was a good reception," Brown said today at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. "I'm from a small town, so they love me anyway, being from there. But this year everybody was like, 'Man, that's Stevie, that's Stevie, did you see him on T.V. this year? He was doing this, he was doing that.' Even people I hadn't seen in a while, they would still hit me up and tell me that they were proud of me. It was different."
Brown also visits Ann Arbor whenever he gets a chance. The previous two years, he was a fringe player trying to establish himself. Now he's a starter on a Super Bowl contender, a change in status that did not go unnoticed.
"We had a little victors' night and we were talking about the best safeties to come through Michigan," Brown said. "A bunch of them were there talking; I was just trying to go to the bathroom and they grabbed me and were like, 'Stevie, shouldn't you be in this conversation?' I said, 'Hold on, hold on.' It's a good brotherhood to be a part of. I love being a Wolverine, anybody who knows me, I tell everybody the Wolverines are the best school ever. It's great.
"There have been a lot of great players to come through there and to even have your name mentioned with some of them is an honor."
A year ago at this time, Brown was an unknown commodity to Giants fans. He had spent single seasons with Oakland and Indianapolis and played in just eight games for the Colts in 2011 before going on injured reserve with a quad injury. The Giants signed him primarily for his special teams prowess and when training camp began he was behind Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips on the depth chart.
By the end of the season, Brown was one of the Giants' most valuable defensive players. He played in every game and his eight picks tied for second in the NFL and were the most by a Giant since Willie Williams had 10 in 1968.
His 307 interception return yards were 151 more than anyone else in the league had and broke the former Giants' single-season record of 251, set by Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell in 1949 and matched by Dick Lynch in 1963. Brown had five interception returns of more than 40 yards, the highest total by an NFL player since Ed Reed, then with Baltimore, had five in 2004.
This summer, Brown is lined up next to Rolle and listed as the starting free safety on the depth chart. Just as he found his reception in Columbus and Ann Arbor different in the offseason, Brown said training camp has a different feel because for the first time he's an established starter.
"There's definitely a difference," Brown said. "Last year, I was trying to make sure I was on every single special team, make sure I was on the defense, and make sure I was doing everything I needed to do to prove to the coaches that I should be here. This year, it's still about trying to prove myself, but at the same time I'm trying to master everything and be in my second year in the defense. I'm trying not to have the same little mistakes that I had last year. I want to build off of everything and just keep being a leader out there."
Brown said he worked hard in the offseason to improve several facets of his game.
"I'm trying to get better at man-to-man techniques, the running game, blocking, etcetera," he said. "I'm just trying to build up all the other areas of my game so I can be everywhere."
So after his impressive Giants debut season, what can he do for an encore?
"Just to do better than last year," Brown said. "I want to remain a starter and get better in everything that I do."
If that happens, they just might throw a parade for Brown next year in Columbus.