From the time Jake Browning's father, Ed, had his 10-year-old son do some extra cleaning around the house to cover the $50 fee for a weekend of quarterback training, Browning's life has revolved around football.
Not much has changed 15 years later. And even though it would have been impossible to prepare for three Vikings quarterbacks being quarantined overnight by COVID-19 protocols, Browning was ready to make nearly every throw in four straight Vikings practices because, as he says, football, family and friends are all that consume his time.
"I do need to find some hobbies," Browning said after Wednesday's practice. "I just can't get into anything. Like golf, everybody assumes I'm a quarterback from a suburb area, everyone assumes I should be good at golf. Not the case."
Browning's run as the Vikings' lone available quarterback, due to him being vaccinated and not subject to the NFL's isolation rules for unvaccinated players, is coming to an end. Coach Mike Zimmer expects quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley to return Thursday from the five-day quarantine required of close contacts with an infected person, which in this case was rookie quarterback Kellen Mond.
The fallout of Mond's positive test led to a rare opportunity for Browning, a 25-year-old undrafted quarterback who hasn't appeared in a game since the 2019 preseason. As mentor Gary Kubiak used to tell Browning, nobody knows if the backup is ready until he's thrown in the fire.
Well, teammates had to cool him off with sprays from water bottles after Browning led a successful hurry-up drill to end his first practice as the starter on Saturday night.
"I've learned he's a good leader," Zimmer said. "I've seen him take charge out here in all the practices. Instead of sitting in the back and biding his time, he's taking charge and throwing, understanding what's going on, and I think the guys feel that."
Browning has taken charge since he was at Folsom High School, a California powerhouse football program, where then co-head coach Troy Taylor turned to an unassuming sophomore to be the starter.
Soon, the teenage Browning was meeting with coaches to pore over game film during lunch hour. He enjoyed the free Safeway sandwiches and football talk. Lunches turned into five-hour Sunday film sessions with the coaching staff.
"There's not too many high school kids that'll do that," Taylor said, "and we didn't ask him to do it. He's the only one who ever did that."
He's the only one who has ever thrown for a national-record 229 touchdowns in a high school career, which ended with a record-tying 91 scores as a senior, a perfect 16-0 record and a state title. Vikings linebacker Cameron Smith, from Granite Bay, Calif., was on a team walloped twice by Browning's Bulldogs before they both went on to Pac-12 colleges.
"His team was the team," Smith said. "They just had it figured out in the system and his ability to treat it pretty much like a college offense. Football was their thing."
Browning's career leading the Washington Huskies wasn't much different. He started as a true freshman and never had a losing season, leaving with a Pac-12 record 39 wins in four years. From the first time he stepped on campus, Browning was shouldering more responsibility than your average 18-year-old recruit. His father, a former Oregon State quarterback, let his son handle most meetings with coaches on his own.
A football-curious mind came with Browning to Minnesota, where he chose to sign in 2019 after going undrafted. He liked how he fit the Kubiak offense.
"Jake seeks out coaching more than any quarterback I've been around," Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. "He's always asking for the little details. Arm strength comes to mind, but I would say his release. He's really worked on a quicker release in the last two years I've been here. I think that's made him a better player."
While tiring, four straight practices as the Vikings starter felt like a breath of fresh air to Browning, who spent his first two NFL seasons toiling as the thankless scout-team passer. Scouts never accused the 6-2, 210-pound Browning of being the next John Elway with a rocket arm. He has long preferred to let his production do the talking.
"The word potential has not been super kind to me, but the word production has," Browning said. "Whatever you want in a quarterback, I think above all you want someone who's going to throw to the person that's open; make some stuff happen when nothing is there; play smart; and ideally win some games. I've been able to do that at two out of three levels. Now, the third one, trying to work hard and set myself up to try to do that again."