Missouri senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers is a cut-up, armed with endless jokes aimed at teammates.
“He’s the kind of guy that will go to you in the locker room and start talking smack to you about anything …,” senior safety and captain Ian Simon said. “You never know when you walk in the locker room. It’s whatever is on his mind that day.”
Brothers also leads the nation with 91 tackles this season, 22 more than any other player in the SEC.
“He’s a freak …,” junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “He finds a way to get to the ball a lot. He works hard, and it shows.”
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The production affords Brothers a certain degree of latitude to indulge his goofy side.
“Sometimes, I think the coaches just hate it,” he said. “But they’re going to hate it when I leave and there’s no more of it.”
Brothers can’t say for certain where his free spirit originated, but it’s manifested more during five years at Missouri.
“I think it’s being around these guys,” he said. “I’ve been around (fellow senior linebacker) Clarence (Green) since I’ve been here. Clarence and (former Missouri defensive end) Shane (Ray) are really what started it — and Ian (Simon). It’s just been downhill from there. I don’t think it will ever go away.”
Simon said most stories about Brothers’ locker-room hijinks aren’t fit for print in a family newspaper, but his levity keeps the Tigers relaxed.
If Brothers had been inclined to get serious entering his senior season, that changed when Harold Brantley suffered a broken leg and other significant injuries June 21 in car wreck.
“Whether they (MU’s coaches) want to believe it or not, there’s more to life than football,” Brothers said. “It took me probably until this year to realize that.”
Seeing Brantley, a junior defensive tackle who will miss the entire 2015 season as he recovers, laid up in the hospital had a profound effect on Brothers.
“I was so concerned about his health,” Brothers said. “During the summer, I wasn’t really worried about workouts. I was worried about calling (Missouri head athletic trainer) Rex (Sharp) to see how he was doing or going to the hospital to see how he was doing. Last year, I was a little goofy, but this year I remember not to get upset about anything. Now, the only thing I really get upset about is if I miss a tackle.”
That hasn’t happened very often.
Brothers — a Guthrie, Okla., native who missed his freshman season in 2011 after breaking an ankle in training camp — has broken or matched his career high for tackles three times in seven games this season.
The latest masterpiece was Brothers’ career-best 17-tackle performance at Georgia, which left him with 14 more tackles than any other player in the country and 21 more than Stanford’s Blake Martinez, the next closest player from a Power Five program.
So, what sets Brothers apart?
“Play recognition,” redshirt freshman defensive end Walter Brady said. “He’s real smart and he’s an intelligent athlete. He’s able to read a lot of plays before they happen and get there for the tackle.”
Nobody rallies to the football better than Brothers this season.
“Honestly, I feel like he is the best linebacker the nation,” Simon said. “It’s his mindset, his attitude and the way he goes about the game. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from Kentrell, watching how he prepares for the game. I’ve made adjustments to how I prepare for the game. He’s just a great player all-around.”
Upon merely mentioning Brothers’ name, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel cracks a wide smile.
“I’m really proud of him,” Pinkel said. “He’s matured a lot since he’s been in the program. That’s why I smile a little bit.”
As game day approaches, Brothers — who is the No. 2 inside linebacker prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. — puts his blinders on and buries his face in his iPad, studying film of the upcoming opponent.
“Once I’m watching film, I’m completely focused,” he said. “I’m not really worried about anything.”
Brothers — who recently went to the coaches and asked to be put on the punt return/block team, because “he’s just all in, man” as Pinkel put it — said preparation gets the goofiness out.
“He’s really in game mode come Saturdays, but definitely throughout the week he does a tremendous job of keeping all of us laughing …,” Brady said. “He cracks a lot of jokes, and he’s real goofy. You wouldn’t think that of him, watching him out there being the one making all those plays.”
It’s all part of the newfound perspective gained, at least in part, from Brantley’s circumstance.
“Anytime someone is upset or something, I can easily say something to make them all laugh,” Brothers said. “It’s fun to remain positive and remember that everything is fine. I try not to be too uptight about everything.”
Missouri at Vanderbilt
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Other story lines
1. PINKEL’S 300TH: Coach Gary Pinkel is 190-106-3 in his career, including a 117-69 record at Missouri. He’ll coach his 300th game on Saturday at Vanderbilt. Pinkel’s already among the 20 winningest coaches in Football Bowl Subdivision history. His 190 wins put him in a four-way for 19th with Texas A&M’s Dana Bible, Mississippi’s John Vaught and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder. Pinkel and Snyder only trail Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (233) for the most wins among active coaches.
2. RECORD-BREAKING BAGGETT: Senior kicker Andrew Baggett remains second on Missouri’s all-time scoring list behind only Jeff Wolfert (362) with 334 career points. But Baggett already broke one of Wolfert’s career marks with a two-field goal performance at Georgia. The Lee’s Summit North graduate has 60 career field goals, one more than Wolfert for the most in program history.
3. HARRIS’ NEAR HISTORIC PACE: Sophomore defensive end Charles Harris ranks fifth in the nation with 12 1/2 tackles for a loss. He has at least one in six of seven games this season and is on pace for 23 tackles for a loss, assuming Missouri makes a bowl game. Justin Smith (2000) and Keith Wright (2002) share the Tigers’ single-season record at 24.