Needing a big play late in the fourth quarter at Nebraska, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez had one of his most reliable receivers on the sidelines with an ankle injury.

The junior didn't hesitate, however, to look for Tony Brown.

Off the snap, Brown, lining up in the right slot, took a quick step to his right to shake his defender and then darted inside. Montez hit him in stride for a 17-yard gain on third-and-6 — a pivotal play to set up the game-winning touchdown a few moments later.

"The big play he made when Juwann (Winfree) got hurt at Nebraska, that slant that he broke the safety down and hit, that was a huge third down play on the last drive," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "I think it gave him a ton of confidence."

To that point, Brown had just two catches for five yards on the season, but he has since blossomed as a go-to receiver for Montez.

With Winfree missing the last two games with his ankle injury, Brown has caught 11 passes for 157 yards. He's had two 53-yard catches.

"It feels pretty good, especially being in the mix and being able to make plays here and there," Brown, a junior from La Mirada, Calif., said. "It's my time to grind and shine."

Brown played his first two seasons of college football at Texas Tech, and was impressive enough to earn playing time as a true freshman. In 24 games with the Red Raiders, he caught 27 passes for 378 yards and one touchdown.


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Brown felt his role was diminishing at Tech, however, and in 2017 he transferred to CU, where Darrin Chiaverini was coaching receivers. Chiaverini recruited Brown to Tech and coached him there in 2015.

When Brown announced his intention to transfer, Chiaverini knew he could help the Buffs. It wasn't difficult to convince MacIntyre to bring him in, especially because the Buffs had recruited Brown out of high school.

"We knew he was a very good player and liked a lot of things about Tony," MacIntyre said.

Because of the NCAA transfer rule, Brown had to sit out during the 2017 season, but is now starting to make his mark on the offense.

Brown is third on the team in catches (14) and receiving yards (179), averaging 12.8 yards per catch. While he hasn't scored, eight of his 14 catches have gone for first downs.

"He has played excellent," MacIntyre said. "His run after catch has been excellent. He's been playing really well."

To this point, sophomore Laviska Shenault has been the unquestioned star of the receiving corps. Shenault has 38 catches for 581 yards, leading the country in catches (9.5) and yards (145.3) per game.

KD Nixon and Jay MacIntyre have been exceptional at times, too, and Winfree caught a touchdown in the opener. Having Brown emerge as another weapon helps the offense and take some pressure off of Shenault.

"It's very important, especially when we're facing teams later on this season," Brown said. "They're obviously going to start double-teaming Viska. Me, KD Nixon and others, we have to step up and make big plays."

While nobody else can touch Shenault's numbers, big plays like the one Brown made late against Nebraska are vital, and have shown CU's depth at the position.

"All the other receivers are playing well and doing a good job," MacIntyre said. "Steven is doing a good job of getting the ball to them at different times. All those guys will step up and keep playing well."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33