A Rising Football Star in Michael Oher's Mold

In North Memphis, O.C. Brown's talent echoes tale in "The Blind Side."

Dec. 24, 2009— -- 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.

Family Mentors Star Football Tackle

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.

"He just needed someone to more or less, mentor him, and to tell him what's out there for him. He didn't know how to get into college," said Mike Ray's wife Billie. "So when Mike got involved, it gave him a reason to study, and a reason to go to school and do well."

Brown, a shy, quiet kid, became another loving member of the Ray family -- another son to Mike and Billie and a brother to their two boys, Cullin and Conrad.

"They really take care of me.They just make me feel good on the inside," Brown said of the Rays. "[Cullin and Conrad are] like little brothers to me. I mean, I play with them all the time and they get on me about my school work too."

Now, Brown has an extended family to love, nurture, and support him.

"I'm surrounded by two good families and it just seems like nothing can go wrong," Brown said.

Recruiters Flock to See O.C. Brown

In February, Ray posted game footage of Brown on YouTube, showing how the offensive tackle plowed through defenders like a "Mack truck."

"Within 24 hours, the thing had 3,800 hits," Bill Courtney recalled. "And then this recruiter from Oklahoma State calls and says, 'I've never seen anything like it...and I want to meet this kid.'"

Nearly a year and a half after moving into Mike and Billie Ray's home, Brown is on the cusp of something big. Since his grades improved, universities offered Brown ten football scholarships.

Like Oher, Brown plans to play left tackle at college. He'll attend the University of Southern Mississippi next fall.

"I think it's awesome. I mean for a guy to be homeless, and now he's really successful in life? That's, that's a big step. And I think he's feeling pretty good about now," Brown said of Oher.

And like Michael Oher, a feature length documentary is soon to be released about Brown's remarkable life.

"The Michael Oher story is much different from the O.C. story," Courtney told "20/20," "But the most important thing that people need to get from this -- you can take what you're good at, work hard at it, be disciplined in it and the help will come because there's people standing in line that want to help folks do well."

With just a few months of high school to go, Brown has been given a tremendous gift -- the chance for a future that until now he could only dream of.

"They've been a big help to O.C. They really, really have," said Hayes. "They let O.C. know that they love him, and they want the best for him. His Mom would be very proud of him. If she was living today, she would be very proud of him."

Brown said that the Rays brought "hope and passion" into his life. He said he wants "to be like them because they take care of their family. And that's the kind of man I want to be."

Brown plans to get a degree in education to become be a coach, so that he can help other players the way he was helped.

"I want to be a coach to make players feel good just like Coach Bill and Coach Ray," he said, "I just want to be successful in life."

To learn more about Man Rise and its work in the Memphis area, visit its Web site.