At 21 years old, Ryan Brown is, somehow, already considered the grandfather of his group.
Both a senior and a citizen of Mississippi State’s football team, Brown is the unquestioned leader of the defensive line for the Bulldogs, the only senior in the starting lineup. Though that doesn’t mean he’s the oldest. In fact, only junior tackle Chris Jones is younger than Brown, and that’s only by a few days. Fellow linemen and juniors A.J. Jefferson and Nick James are actually older than Brown, they just happen to have redshirted a year, while Brown never did.
Those three all got to State together, and Brown was easily the least-heralded of the bunch. Three years and change later, after Brown was at the bottom of the list, he’s the one they all look up to.
“He’s the leader of the defensive line for us right now,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “He’s been steady for a while. He’s a guy that always, from day one, he puts everything in.”
That work ethic is one of several reasons he earned his role as leader of a group that racked up an impressive 15 tackles for loss against Troy last week. For his part in the damage, Brown was awarded the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week award.
He’s tall at 6’6” and seemingly even longer with a wingspan covering the width of at least a couple offensive linemen. He’s fast, he’s technically sound and over the last several years he’s filled out his frame to look the part of one of the SEC’s best defensive ends.
Though none of that explains why his teammates joke with him so much.
“He’s more of the grandpa of the group,” Jefferson cracked.
“I guess,” Brown offered, “they see me as an older person, more mature.”
His teammates, if they’re being honest, concede that it’s true. The other three starters to Brown’s left before each defensive play begins all consider themselves to be more of the jokesters. They laugh, they talk trash and they’re full of energy.
Brown, on the other hand, is the stoic one. He’s got a big smile and shows it often, but in the locker room and on the field he’s all about work. He’ll often listen to gospel and praise music before games, rather than some of the selections with significantly higher beats per minute his teammates prefer.
In interviews, he’s always quick to deflect compliments, preferring to brag on his teammates. In fact, when he won Lineman of the Week, it was Jefferson, his roommate, who was the first to congratulate him. Brown used that anecdote to instead brag about the record-breaking pace Jefferson is on this season, rather than his own accomplishments.
After being pelted with questions he patiently answers, Brown says thank you to reporters after interviews, as if they did something for him, not the other way around. He makes sure to thank God for his successes, not himself, his coaches or even just good luck.
The mature approach is why Jefferson, almost an entire year older than his roommate, says he’s still learning things from Brown, be it a mental style off the field or a physical style when on it.
“They kind of take me serious,” Brown said of his teammates. “When I walk in this building, it’s time for work, not play. That’s how I go about things here … My dad and my mom always used to tell me leave the attitude at the door. Leave everything that you’ve been worrying about at the door.”
Following his lead, MSU’s defensive line has been having a particularly successful year, despite losing three of four starters from last year’s squad, two of whom will be playing in NFL games just days from now.
Through six games, defensive line coach David Turner’s unit has racked up 49 tackles for loss, constantly harassing quarterbacks and running backs in their own backfield. Their 17 sacks have resulted in opposing offenses losing 132 yards of field position.
Brown’s 26 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and a pair of sacks, have been a big part of the constant pressure. Few defensive linemen in the country, however, are having better seasons than Jefferson, who has 10.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks. He’s third on the team with 33 tackles overall and seems to have been in on just about every big defensive play MSU has had, whether it’s forcing the quarterback to throw the ball early or dropping a ball-carrier far behind the first down line they wanted to cross.
Going into last week’s match-up with Troy, the defensive line was challenged by Turner, Mullen and defensive coordinator to play their best game of the season, to play with an edge and to do everything they can to stifle the Trojans offense.
By halftime, MSU led 38-0, Troy had negative 20 rushing yards and State’s defensive line had scored a touchdown of its own when junior tackle Nelson Adams scooped a Trojan fumble and fell on it in the endzone.
The result: MSU’s coaches got they wanted, and their grandfather got what he never expected, being named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
“When you turn on the film and see how our defensive line played as a whole, they played the best game they have played this season,” Mullen said. “I think Ryan was the beneficiary of that. It wasn’t just Ryan putting on a show on the field. It was our entire defensive line playing at another level. He’s the guy that ended up with the best stats because of what they were doing. That is as much everybody else on the defensive line as much as it is him causing some issues in the backfield and creating negative-yard plays.”