Oregon labored through two practices on Saturday in the August heat.

The wintry scene from December feels like a lifetime ago to Pharaoh Brown, the statuesque tight end who was suspended for the Alamo Bowl by Mark Helfrich for his part in an impromptu campus snowball fight that snowballed out of control.

In the aftermath, Brown, the pugnacious star of a viral video, was viewed as an Internet villain for pelting cars with snow and dumping an avalanche on the head of a 60-year-old retired professor.

"It was fine," Brown said of the guttural Twitter reaction he received after the Dec. 6 incident. "I mean, it's a learning experience. What happened, happened. We can't do anything about it. I've just got to take something from it, learn from it and move on."

Brown's teammates and coaches say he has blossomed over the last eight months, improving academically, thriving as a player and even emerging as a leader on a team with great expectations.

"I think that happens with everybody coming into college. You learn as you go," wide receiver Dwayne Stanford said. "Not everybody makes the best decisions. We all make mistakes, and the great thing about Pharaoh is he learned from those mistakes he made. I think you can expect some big things from him this year."

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior has the size to pancake defensive ends in the running game and the speed to separate from linebackers in the passing game. Injuries during fall camp a year ago and in the spring slowed Brown's development on the field.

With a lack of experience at wide receiver, Marcus Mariota will be looking to finding out what Brown can do for the Ducks' offense in 2014.

"I remember when we first came in, me and him always used to get into it," said Tyson Coleman, a 6-1, 235-pound linebacker who is also trying to stay healthy and expand his role this season. "I didn't like getting blocked and he didn't like getting beat, so we'd go back and forth a little bit there. He's so tall and long and athletic that it's tough to keep an edge on him. I can't imagine a linebacker being close to his size or matching his athleticism."

Brown missed the first three games last season before getting healthy. He made five starts and finished the season with 10 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt each had a catch and helped pave the way for 216 yards rushing during Oregon's 30-7 dismantling of Texas in the Alamo Bowl as Brown watched in street clothes.

"I forgot all about that," tight ends coach Tom Osborne said when asked about Brown's evolution since the suspension. "He's changed because he's matured, he's a year older. I told him, 'You're not a freshman anymore, you're not just a young kid anymore.'

"Now this is third year, and we expect those guys to grow up. He's been doing great things with the training staff and he's just a more mature person who handles things better. That's what you expect, that's the fun part of coaching."

Osborne said he will be comfortable putting Brown, Baylis, Mundt and Koa Ka'ai on the field this season. The coaching staff is currently evaluating all scenarios and will consider using more multiple tight end sets to lean on the running game while unproven wide receivers develop.

During Oregon's first practice of fall camp, Brown caught offensive coordinator Scott Frost's eye for what he was doing on the sideline.

"Pharaoh, and this is a huge step for him, he was out there helping the young guys," Frost said. "For him to be so far along in our scheme that he can be the one out there coaching other guys says a lot about how far he's come."

The Ducks have a wealth of leadership this season with the return of Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. All three are in the conversation as the best player in the country at their respective positions.

Brown, who would prefer to avoid the media spotlight right now and focus on camp, appears to be a popular player inside the locker room.

"I hang out with Pharaoh a lot. I've seen him change so much," sophomore linebacker Torrodney Prevot said. "He has talked to me and been my guidance through my freshman year. Now he's teaching me that my mentality has to change. Going against him in practice every day is like going against my elder.

"He's a fast O-lineman basically, but he can catch. He's just a big, big receiver. Defenses are definitely going to have their hands full the whole season. Everyone should be on the lookout for him."

Brown and the other Ducks involved in the snowball fight didn't have bad intentions when they assembled in front of the Erb Memorial Union to have some fun and connect with other students.

At some point, a line in the snow was crossed. Brown issued a public apology acknowledging that his actions "escalated to an inappropriate level." Then Helfrich hit him with the painful postseason ban.

After the spring term, Brown texted the head coach a picture of his report card, which featured a rising grade-point average.

"Pharaoh has been awesome. He's been awesome. Relative to what transpired, that guy has been great," Helfrich said. "I want to stand on a podium somewhere and cry over that guy's story and tell that guy's story. He's grown up, he's still got a lot of growing up to do, and that's part of our job. He's been awesome. We expect big, big things out of him."

College is about education, self growth and preparing for the real world. Football is about sacrifice, overcoming adversity and teamwork.

Brown, who recently turned 20, believes he is a more well-rounded person and a better teammate two years after leaving his hometown of Lyndhurst, Ohio, for Eugene.

"I came in and I was just a little boy to what I am now. I came a long way, matured a lot and learned a lot of things," Brown said. "Being a third-year player and a veteran of the program, I know the ins and outs of everything. It's time to show it."

Follow Ryan on Twitter @rgduckfootball . Email ryan.thorburn@registerguard.com .

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