Missouri senior Cortland Browning misses sophomore Anthony Sherrils’ dreadlocks, which were chopped off last November as Sherrils started eying a summer internship.
Sherrils, a Hogan Prep graduate, is a chemical engineering major at MU and thought a more clean-cut look might aid his search.
But it was a sad day for Browning, who was among the elder Tigers to take Sherrils under his wing when he transitioned from cornerback to safety.
“He’s a real good friend to me, and I look at him as a brother,” Browning said. “He used to have dreads. I’d catch him in the hallway, sneak up on him, grab him by his hair and just get to yanking on them.”
Sounds like something an older brother might do, but that relationship has been tested in recent months as Browning and Sherrils vie for a prize only one can claim.
The two are the leading candidates to replace Braylon Webb in Missouri’s starting lineup at safety alongside Ian Simon, the incumbent starter at free safety.
Browning is in his final college season. He patiently bided his time behind Webb, a three-year starter, and now finds himself fending off Sherrils’ challenge for the starting job he’s long coveted.
“That’s a very tough position to be in, but Cortland’s a hard worker and he’s been one of my best friends for going on five years now,” Simon said. “I know the type of man he is and the type of person he is, so I know it’s not bothering him at all.”
Browning suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot, which required surgery and a three-month recovery, before the SEC Championship Game in December.
Sherrils seized the opportunity to vault atop the Tigers’ depth chart in Browning’s absence and hasn’t relinquished that spot.
“That was a goal of mine — contribute to the team on defense and defense primarily,” Sherrils said. “It would be everything I ever wanted. … I’m a one right now. The coaches felt like I’m the man for the job at this point I guess, because I’ve been the one and I stayed the one. It’s something that I’ve owned. I want to be the starter and I have been so far, so I’m planning on nothing changing.”
Despite the competition, Sherrils hopes that includes his relationship with Browning.
“Cortland wants me to be successful,” Sherrils said. “He knows that I have a big, big chance to go to the next level. Him being an older guy, he sees my potential and wants me to be as successful as I can be.”
There’s certainly truth to that, but Browning also won’t concede the starting safety spot without a fight.
“I’m happy for” Sherrils, Browning said. “I love him like a brother. That’s genuine love. I really love him. At the end of the day, if he asks me something, I’m going to tell him what he needs to do. It’s not like a competition, because it’s a One Mizzou thing. That’s something serious. I take it seriously anyway.
“We’ve got a bond that can’t be broken. On or off the field, that’s my brother. But I still tell him and Ian I want to take their spot. It’s no secret, dude. There’s no secret to it.”
Browning has his own ambition, and he knows the clock is ticking. He also knows that Sherrils is a formidable challenger.
During the winter, Sherrils was clocked with a 4.29-second 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time on the team behind Ray Wingo (4.28).
“Anthony’s really got tremendous potential, because he has remarkable speed and he plays with speed,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He starts fast and he is fast. A guy like that with that kind of range on the perimeter of your defense, he can make a lot plays, so we’re real excited about him.”
Browning understands that he’s been painted into a corner, but he’s taking a big-picture view of his situation.
“It’s all a friendly competition, and I love competition,” he said. “It is what it is at the end of the day. I’m the underdog. I know I’m the underdog — look at where I’m at on the depth chart, and I read the papers, too. But I look at it as motivation. …
“We, as safeties, are a unit. We’re all going to play, and I’m trying to win a national championship. That’s all that really matters to me. I don’t really care about where I’m at on the depth chart. Obviously, I want to be No. 1, but more than that I want that ring.”
The only regret Browning has is that Sherrils’ hair won’t be grown out again for dreadlocks before Browning graduates.
“By the time his hair grows back out, I’m going to be gone,” Browning said. “I’m going to have to catch him when I come back to watch him play or something.”