Football is O.C. Brown's ticket out of the rough streets of northern Memphis, Tenn.
At 6 foot 3 inches and 300 pounds, the 17-year-old left offensive tackle is by far the biggest guy on his football team at Manassas High School, but he moves with extraordinary speed and grit to protect the quarterback's "blind side."
"When we saw the size and the strength and the courage that this kid had coupled with the attitude, we knew we had something special," said Manassas High School offensive coordinator Bill Courtney.
That "something special" has earned Brown a spot playing college football -- and a shot at the first-rate college education he never imagined was possible.
Listening to Brown's tale, you can't help but draw parallels to Michael Oher, whose journey from poverty to homelessness to NFL stardom was chronicled in the season box-office smash-hit, "The Blind Side."
Like Oher, Brown was once in dire straits. One of five children from a broken home, Brown was only seven years old when his mother died. Along with two younger sisters and a baby niece, Brown was raised by his grandmother, Ethel Hayes, in a tiny home in the poorest section of town.
Watch "The Blind Side: The True Story Behind the Movie" on a special edition of "20/20," Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 10 p.m. ET
Last year, when Brown's grades began to slide, his oldest sister and grandmother threatened to take away the one thing he loved most -- football.
"If your grades are not good enough, then you can't play," Hayes said. "Because he was focusing more on football than he was on his grades."
"My junior year I kind of relaxed," Brown said, admitting that he was falling behind. "And my sister and grandmother were threatening to take me out of the football team if my grades didn't improve."
Brown's coach, Bill Courtney, appealed to his grandmother, asking for more time to figure out how to get him back on track in the classroom.
Courtney, who counsels young people like Brown on how to cope with everyday situations that arise at school and on the athletic field, looked to the non-profit Christian organization Man Rise, which mentors high-school football players in the Memphis area.
To learn more about Man Rise, click here.
For Brown, Courtney reached out Mike Ray, his close friend and a fellow volunteer coach, to help his star tackle.
"We came up with this idea that he could stay with us," Ray said. "I think we originally said for a month. And get some tutoring, see if we can get him going."
In October 2009, Brown moved into Mike and Billie Ray's 7,000 square foot home in the exclusive suburb of Germantown, Tenn. -- a world away from the mean streets of North Memphis. He spent weekends with his grandmother at her home.
"Miss Hayes and his sister, I mean, they have done a phenomenal job as far as raising him, and he was already a solid citizen when he got here. That's why we agreed to take him in," Ray said.
Coming from a notoriously rough neighborhood, Brown said the move was at first a bit of a shock for him. But he quickly adapted to the new routine. Coach Courtney shuttled Brown to and from school and practice, then back to the suburbs to study with tutors at the Rays' home each night. It wasn't long before Brown turned his C's and D's into A's and B's.