SANTA CLARA -- The move was widely seen as a gamble back in April 2007.
Cornerback Tarell Brown, who had been arrested twice within five months for marijuana possession, became an example throughout the nation of a prospective NFL player who was a "character risk" during the draft.
As a result, the player generally regarded as a third-round talent saw his draft stock plummet and his reputation shattered after his two well-publicized run-ins with the law.
The 49ers' top two decision-makers at the time, coach Mike Nolan and general manager Scot McCloughan, met with Brown on separate occasions and investigated the incidents thoroughly. Texas coach Mack Brown vouched for his former player's character.
The 49ers ended Brown's fall in the draft. The club selected him in the fifth round as the 147th player chosen. McCloughan would later say he never considered Brown much of a risk, at all.
Midway into his third season, the 49ers rewarded Brown with a contract extension through the 2013 season. Brown, now 26, has continued to live up to the organization's expectation that his missteps off the field would not be repeated.
When told Thursday that Brown entered the league with some baggage, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was clearly taken aback."Really? That surprises me," Fangio said.
Fangio said he knew next to nothing about Brown before he followed coach Jim Harbaugh from Stanford to the 49ers. And since he has started coaching Brown, Fangio said he has been thoroughly impressed.
"I don't know what his circumstances were, but where he's at today, what my exposure to him has been since the beginning of training camp, I'd have a hard time believing that he had any issues on or off the field," Fangio said.
A week ago, Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain was arrested on a variety of misdemeanor charges, including one for discharging a firearm, in his hometown in Alabama. While all the details have yet to come to light, it's safe to assume McClain placed himself in a position that could've easily been avoided.And that is the lesson Brown said he learned the difficult way.
"You have to surround yourself with positive people," Brown told CSNBayArea.com. "Sometimes, it's not always the person, it's the company that you keep. A lot of times your company can bring you down and put you in a bad situation.
"In my situation, in college, I was around some people that didn't have my best interests at heart. It hurt me in the long run. At the end of the day, all I could do was get better as a person. I know that's not me. I guess everybody around here who's been around me and hangs around me, they know I'm not that type of person."
Veteran cornerback Shawntae Spencer has been Brown's teammate every step of the way. And he can't fathom how anyone could've ever had any question about Brown's intentions.
"Personally, I don't believe it," Spencer said. "I think I speak for everyone here, saying we haven't seen anything remotely close to allegations of the character issues he supposedly had coming out of Texas. He's a great guy -- a family guy.
"He's grown as a player. But as a person, he's always been a good guy. He laughs, cracks a lot of jokes. He's very intelligent. He's never been in any trouble -- on the field, off the field, nothing like that."
Brown has endured many hardships in his life. When he was 9, his mother was murdered as she was getting into her car to go to work one morning. He moved in with his father, who saw football as Tarell's vehicle to earn a scholarship and get an education. Two months before the draft that would see the 49ers select Brown, his father died of a heart attack.
A month later, Brown was arrested a second time for possession. Brown was with his cousin, whom authorities said had a history of drug possession. For his first brush with the law, Brown was suspended for the Texas-Ohio State game in 2006 after getting arrested for possession of marijuana and gun possession. A former teammate assumed responsibility for the marijuana.
"I don't think people have looked to bring me down, I just think it's a selfish world and a lot of times people might not realize the things they're putting their friends or family through," Brown said. "They might not know they're putting other people in danger. It might be a normal routine for them. But to me, it's not a normal routine because if my name's in the paper, it's a big deal. If your name's in the paper, it's brushed under the rug. It's a big difference."
Brown requested drug tests both times, and both times he was proven clean. The charges were dismissed.It's not so much that Brown has changed as a person. But those episodes forced him to make some difficult choices about with whom he could socialize.
"When you're young, you feel like your invincible," Brown said. "You feel like your friends, what they do, won't hurt you. But it can. So you got to keep yourself away from those types of people and say, 'Look, we can be friends but at a distance. We can speak, but coming to my house or hanging out or riding in a car or going to spend time with my family? No, we can't do that.
"I learned from it and it made me a better person because now I'm a father and I know how to carry myself and I know how to say "No' or 'We don't have the same goals or the same interests, so why do you need to be around me?' You live and you learn. As you get older, you get better."
And Brown has gotten better on the field, too. After starting five games over his first four NFL seasons, Brown has nailed down a job as the full-time starter at right cornerback. He ranks third on the team with 10 passes defensed on a defense that is surrendering a league-low 13.4 points per game.
"(He's) a real pro," Fangio said. "The guy works really hard in the meetings, watching film, taking notes, studying, asking questions. He does everything off the field that you would want a guy to do."