Kentrell Brothers had leadership thrust upon him.
Brothers, a junior linebacker at Missouri, started all 14 games in 2013, but he was reluctant to take the reins as the position group’s alpha player in 2014.
“Going into the season, I was obviously looked upon as the leader of the linebackers and stuff, but that was a role that I didn’t really want to have,” Brothers said. “I’m not really a leader to them; I’m more like a brother to them, a big brother they come ask questions to and stuff like that.”
That’s not all that the Tigers required from him, especially with last season’s leading tackler, Andrew Wilson, lost to graduation.
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Missouri needed Brothers, a 6-foot-1 converted defensive end from Guthrie, Okla., to step up, and that pressure weighed on him.
Penciled in initially as Wilson’s replacement at middle linebacker, Brothers missed spring football after undergoing shoulder surgery.
He returned to find that sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer had taken control at middle linebacker, leaving Brothers as the starter at weak-side linebacker for a second straight season.
Brothers played OK during the Tigers’ nonconference slate, but he realized that OK wasn’t good enough.
“I wasn’t playing as good as I could have,” Brothers said. “I was getting my job done, but I really wasn’t bringing that next factor, that next step to get the job done. It didn’t really click in until SEC play.”
He averaged a shade more than seven tackles per game before conference play, but Brothers found a new gear against SEC competition.
“Early in the season, my expectations were so high that, when I didn’t meet them, I would get frustrated,” Brothers said. “When I get frustrated, it’s hard for me to focus. That’s something I continued to work on during the season, and it’s continuing to get better.”
Brothers averaged 9.7 tackles in nine SEC games, including the team- and career-high 14 tackles he registered in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama.
“It’s just something about SEC play that gets you going,” Brothers said. “It’s the best conference in the nation, and you don’t want to get humiliated on TV. You want to help your team win. Once we hit SEC play, I guess I just took off.”
Missouri’s defense followed suit.
“He was frustrated with himself at the beginning of the season, but after a while the old Kentrell came out and he went back to flying around and making plays like he always does,” junior free safety Ian Simon said.
Brothers has racked up 116 tackles this season — second most in the SEC behind only Arkansas senior Martrell Spaight’s 123 — ahead of the Citrus Bowl against Minnesota on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla.
“We all started hitting our stride at a certain point in the year,” senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “He hit his when the rest of the defense did. … Kentrell turned out to be a great player this year. He led the team in tackles, and it turned out to be a great year.”
Tigers fans can count on seeing him for another season, too.
Brothers said he won’t be declaring early for the NFL Draft.
“Regardless, I’m back next year,” he said. “…I know I’m nowhere near ready to play in the NFL, and I’m nowhere near ready to make a decision to play in the NFL.”
At least, not yet.