NASHVILLE – Willie McGinest is able to say he knew Titans linebacker Jayon Brown way back when.
And because of it, he smiles when talking about Brown's success.
"He has always had the mentality, and the work ethic, from youth football to high school, all the way up," McGinest said of Brown. "He's a guy who never gave up on himself. He always worked. He always walks around with a smile, but he will work his butt off. I'm really proud of Jayon."
McGinest, an analyst with NFL Network, played from 1994-2005 with the Patriots before playing three more seasons with the Browns (2006-08). McGinest played in two Pro Bowls while in New England, and won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, where he was teammates with Titans coach Mike Vrabel. He's in the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.
McGinest is also close with Brown, who just finished his second season with the Titans.
Brown said he wears No.55 because it's the number McGinest wore during his playing days.
Like McGinest, Brown is from Long Beach, California, and he went to Long Beach Poly High School. McGinest has been close friends with Brown's father, Jason, since they were youngsters.
"Willie has always been around my family growing up, so he's pretty much my uncle," Brown said. "He's helped me out throughout my career, and even today we'll go over film.
"He gives me tips when I need them, when I ask for them. Even when I don't ask for them, he'll give them to me," Brown continued, smiling. "He's a guy who has tried to help me throughout my career, and he's helped me a lot."
Brown, a fifth round draft pick from UCLA in the 2017 NFL Draft, made a big leap for the Titans in 2018.
He was second on the team with 107 tackles, and he also racked up six sacks and 18 quarterback pressures. He was one of the team's most consistent players.
In the team's finale against the Colts, Brown was a one-man wrecking crew, returning an interception for a touchdown before forcing another fumble – and recovering it – a little later.
"He can be really good," McGinest said of Brown. "He is still learning the game. They ask him to do a lot – he's a cover guy, he can play the run, he can cover a tight end and a back if you need him to. He never has to come off the field, so he is still growing, and he is still learning. I think the sky is the limit."
Seeing Brown excel has been fun for McGinest to watch.
Watching how he's done it makes him even prouder.
McGinest and Brown both made their comments from Super Bowl LIII earlier this month.
"A lot of people always identify players just because of the football side of it," McGinest said. "But this kid has a great personality. He has a great outlook on life, he's happy, and he loves doing what he is doing. And he'll grind - he'll work. I think when you have special guys like that you know they are going to have a bright future, and I kind of knew that with him.
"He's just a great kid, on and off the field."