Michael Sam worked his way into stardom gradually.
He showed promise as a freshman with 3 1/2 sacks, and turned in a huge play as a sophomore with an interception to preserve a victory at Texas Tech.
Last year, another 3 1/2 sacks and his first touchdown on fumble return. Heading into his senior season, Sam had authored a solid career at Missouri.
Now, it’s excellent.
Sam was chosen Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year on Monday by the Associated Press.
He’s the first conference defensive player of the year from MU since tackle Jeff Gaylord was chosen as the Big Eight’s top defender in 1981.
Sam led the SEC in sacks with 10 1/2 and tackles for loss with 18. Three times, Sam won an SEC weekly award, and he’s a finalist for several major national defensive awards, including the Bronco Nagurski award as the nation’s top defensive player.
Sam’s emergence reflects Missouri’s. The Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the Eastern Division this season but finished with a 7-1 league record and fell to Auburn on Saturday in the SEC championship game.
Joining Sam on the all-SEC first team are senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, a Fort Osage grad, junior defensive end Kony Ealy and senior offensive tackle Justin Britt.
Gaines becomes the Tigers’ first all-conference player in two leagues, having been picked to the all-Big 12 team in 2011.
Ealy’s best game may have been his most recent. He forced two fumbles, one returned by Gaines for a touchdown, against Auburn.
Britt is Missouri’s first all-conference offensive lineman since Tim Barnes was picked to the all-Big 12 team in 2010.
Two Tigers made the second team: sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who has 55 receptions and 12 touchdowns, and senior linebacker Andrew Wilson. Wilson, a Raymore-Peculiar grad, leads Mizzou in tackles with 98.
Defensive end Marcus Golden received honorable mention.
Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 304 yards against Mizzou, was the AP’s offensive player of the year in the SEC.
First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, was chosen coach of the year after leading Auburn to the SEC title a year after the team finished winless in SEC play last year.
Arkansas freshman running back Alex Collins, who finished with 1,026 rushing yards, was chosen newcomer of the year.
The All-SEC team selected by the coaches will be announced Tuesday.Associated Press All-SEC teams
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, 6-3, 205, Sr.; Mike Evans, Texas A, 6-5, 225, So.
Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State, 6-4, 340, Sr.; Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama, 6-6, 310, Jr.; Jake Matthews, Texas A, 6-5, 305, Sr.; t-Justin Britt, Missouri, 6-6, 315, Sr.; t-Greg Robinson, Auburn, 6-5, 320, So.; t-Anthony Steen, Alabama, 6-3, 309, Sr.
Travis Swanson, Arkansas, 6-5, 315, Sr.
Arthur Lynch, Georgia, 6-5, 254, Sr.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A, 6-1, 210, So.
u-Tre Mason, Auburn, 5-10, 205, Jr.; Jeremy Hill, LSU, 6-2, 235, So.
Marshall Morgan, Georgia, 6-3, 200, So.
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU, 6-0, 193, Jr.
u-Michael Sam, Missouri, 6-2, 255, Sr.; Dee Ford, Auburn, 6-2, 240, Sr.; t-Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, 6-6, 274, Jr.; t-Kony Ealy, Missouri, 6-5, 275, Jr.
Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina, 6-4, 298, Jr.
u-C.J. Mosley, Alabama, 6-2, 232, Sr.; Ramik Wilson, Georgia, 6-2, 232, Jr.; A.J. Johnson, Tennessee, 6-2, 243, Jr.
E.J. Gaines, Missouri, 5-11, 195, Sr.; Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida, 5-11, 192, Fr.
Cody Prewitt, Mississippi, 6-2, 220, Jr.; Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt, 6-1, 205, Sr.
Cody Mandell, Alabama, 6-3, 213, Sr.
Jarvis Landry, LSU, 6-1, 195, Jr.; Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri, 6-6, 225, So.
Ja’Waun James, Tennessee, 6-6, 316, Sr.; t-Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt, 6-5, 295, Sr.; t-Antonio Richardson, Tennessee, 6-6, 327, Jr.; t-Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi, 6-5, 315, Fr.; t-Trai Turner, LSU, 6-3, 316, So.
Reese Dismukes, Auburn, 6-3, 297, Jr.
t-Evan Engram, Mississippi, 6-3, 217, Fr.; t-Hunter Henry, Arkansas, 6-6, 250, Fr.; t-C.J. Uzomah, Auburn, 6-4, 258, Jr.
Aaron Murray, Georgia, 6-1, 208, Sr.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, 6-2, 218, So.; t-Todd Gurley, Georgia, 6-1, 232, So.; t-Mike Davis, South Carolina, 5-9, 215, So.
Zach Hocker, Arkansas, 6-0, 191, Sr.
Christion Jones, Alabama, 5-11, 185, Jr.
Alvin Dupree, Kentucky, 6-4, 252, Jr.; Dante Fowler Jr., Florida, 6-3, 266, So.
Anthony Johnson, LSU, 6-3, 294, Jr.
Avery Williamson, Kentucky, 6-1, 238, Sr.; t-Lamin Barrow, LSU, 6-23, 232, Sr.; t-Serderius Bryant, Mississippi, 5-9, 215, Jr.; t-Trey DePriest, Alabama, 6-2, 245, Jr.; t-Sharrod Golightly, South Carolina, 5-10, 195, Jr.; t-Denzel Nkemdiche, Mississippi, 5-11, 207, So.; t-Andrew Wilson, Missouri, 6-3, 240, So.
Andre Hal, Vanderbilt, 6-0, 186, Sr.; t-Chris Davis, Auburn, 5-11, 200, Sr.; t-Victor Hampton, South Carolina, 5-10, 202, Jr.; t-Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida, 6-0, 190, Jr.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama, 6-1, 208, Jr.; Landon Collins, Alabama, 6-0, 215, So.
Drew Kaser, Texas A, 6-3, 205, So.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, 6-1, 210, Jr.; AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama, 6-4, 214, Sr.; Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU, 6-5, 235, Sr.
Steven Clark, P, Auburn, 6-5, 230, Sr.; Ego Ferguson, T, LSU, 6-3, 309, Jr.; Markus Golden, E, Missouri, 6-3, 260, Jr.; Brandon Ivory, T, Alabama, 6-4, 310, Jr.; Chris Jones, T, Mississippi St., 6-5, 305, Fr.; Craig Loston, S, LSU, 6-2, 209, Sr.; Michael Palardy, P, Tennessee, 5-11, 185, Sr.; Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama, 6-0, 210, Jr.; Robenson Therezie, S, Auburn, 5-9, 204, Jr.; Nickoe Whitley, S, Mississippi St., 6-1, 205, Sr.; Gabe Wright, T, Auburn, 6-3, 296, Jr.
NOTES: u-unanimous selection to first team; t-tied at a position