Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Kentrell Brothers’ 16 tackles against Southeast Missouri State in Missouri’s season opener were not enough to get the linebacker recognition as the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
So, Brothers tried again.
The senior recorded 16 tackles for a second straight Saturday and hauled in two fourth-quarter interceptions to close out Missouri’s win at Arkansas State. On Monday, Brothers was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
Brother now leads the nation with 32 tackles on the season — not that he has checked.
“A lot of people have been tweeting me and sending me pictures of it and stuff, so I don’t even think I would need to (check) the way people are blowing my phone up,” he said. “… I mean, that just shows how much hard work can get you. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about leading the nation in tackles, but it’s a crazy feeling.”
Brothers’ 18 solo tackles are currently third-best in the country. His play has his coaches impressed:
Head coach Gary Pinkel: “He’s been here five years — feels like 15 to me — and I love him. That’s one of the most rewarding things you get from doing my job is seeing a guy come in, him mature … and just seeing him grow up as a young man, become very responsible, going to graduate from college. (Brothers) works hard, has developed a great work ethic, and he’s a great team player.”
Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski: “I watch Kentrell (and) I’m amazed, too. I’m like, wow. He almost killed a guy on the sideline on a legal hit, so he’s pretty good.”
Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Barry Odom: “He understands what makes him play his best and that’s great practice habits and being a student of the game. He’s taken that to another level, and I expect it to continue.”
Odom is a former Missouri linebacker himself. He said he never had 16 tackles in a game.
“If you added one of my seasons together I think I had maybe that many,” he said. “(Brothers) has been pretty productive.”
Brothers’ interceptions came at key times Saturday, ending two of Arkansas State’s final three drives as the Red Wolves attempted a comeback in the one-score game. Both picks gave Missouri the ball at the Arkansas State 23-yard line, with the first leading to a field goal — the final points of the game — and the second allowing the Tigers to run out the clock.
Brothers’ first interception was the result of him ripping a 50-50 ball from the hands of Red Wolves receiver Dijon Paschal. The second, which came off a tipped pass, was returned nine yards.
The game before, Brothers had a blocked punt to go with his 16 tackles.
Pinkel compared Brothers’ senior-season improvement to that of a former Missouri SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
“(It’s) just like Michael Sam,” Pinkel said. “He played really good (his junior year) and then all of a sudden he’s the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. It’s the same thing.”
Sam once won back-to-back SEC Defensive Line Player of the Week awards. Brothers has been given the SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor once before, as a sophomore in 2013 when he recorded 10 tackles in Missouri’s win at Georgia.
He is the first Tiger to win the award since defensive end Markus Golden, who was given the nod after a two-sack, six-tackle performance last November at Tennessee. Fellow defensive end Shane Ray won the award after recording two sacks and four tackles for loss against UCF on Sept. 13.
“There’s a lot of people (to win the award) before me, Markus Golden, Michael Sam, Shane, and it’s always been the D-line,” Brothers said. “So it’s good to bring something to the linebacker room.”
Notes: Missouri listed first-string tailback Russell Hansbrough (sprained ankle) as “out” for Saturday’s game against Connecticut. Sophomore Ish Witter will start, with Tyler Hunt and Morgan Steward sharing backup duties. … Senior Taylor Chappell was listed as the starting left guard ahead of sophomore Alec Abeln, who started the first two games. … Freshman punter Corey Fatony and senior kicker Andrew Baggett are listed as co-kickoff specialists. Fatony kicked off the past two weeks as Baggett, who still kicked field goals, recovered from a back injury. … Junior-college transfer Marcell Frazier regained his spot as starting defensive end after co-starting with Walter Brady last week, and Josh Augusta, who shared starting duties with Terry Beckner Jr. on Saturday, is once again the lone starting defensive tackle.