Bishop McNamara middle linebacker Khari Brown was feeling just a little left out. His two teammates, Nicholas Law and Hannibal Robinson, were stealing all the headlines and here he was, the team's leading tackler, and … where was the love? Not a peep from the writers, not a word from the recruiters.
Mustangs coach Bryce Bevill chuckled at his young linebacker's dilemma.
"Oh, it's ridiculous these kids sometimes," he said jokingly. "It used to be you had to do something on the field first before you got reported on.
"But in Khari's case, he has done something on the field. He was highly productive for us last year and deserves a little attention."
It's actually quite difficult for anyone to miss Khari Brown. He's a 6-foot-2, 220-pound prototypical middle linebacker who's in on seemingly every tackle. He may not be as vociferous, but he has the same passion as Ravens great Ray Lewis.
"Ray has drive and desire and when he hits someone you know it," Brown said. "When I get in the game I model my play after his. I really want to knock somebody's head off. That's why I play the game and that's how I play the game."
Bevill didn't compare his junior linebacker to an NFL Hall of Famer, but he did say Brown had a definite impact on the McNamara defense. With Brown controlling the middle, the Mustangs pitched three shutouts and allowed 15 points per game in a conference stacked with high-powered offenses.
"He's an old-school 4-3 middle linebacker," Bevill said. "He's a sideline-to-sideline guy, he does a great job getting off blocks and he's strong enough to drive guys back. On run plays he is always the first guy in on the tackle."
Brown's tackling is a personal point of pride. As the middle linebacker, he often has to contend with hulking guards and bruising fullbacks trying to open a hole for their running back. Thus, rarely does Brown have a clear shot on the ball carrier. Still, he had over 80 tackles in 2009.
"I think the most important thing for an inside linebacker is to be able to hit and fight through blocks," Brown said. "When a guard comes up to block me, I can shrug him off, and once I grab the running back, he's not getting away."
Brown can do more than just track down running backs, however. He can play pass coverage, too. Bevill recalls a play against Gonzaga where Brown dropped back in a zone, and after a 15-yard sideline completion, raced across the field, caught the receiver and delivered a jarring hit.
"It was very impressive because it showed his ability to cover the whole field, explode to the ball and make a sure tackle," Bevill said.
Even Brown, who champions bone-rattling hits, pointed to an interception he made last year as his favorite play.
"I liked the first interception I had because it showed I could move laterally and I had good hips," Brown said. "Most bigger linebackers don't have great hips to turn and cover, but that's something I think I do well."
Brown, like so many young players, didn't begin to emerge until his junior season. As a freshman on jayvee, he tried to play quarterback but was quickly moved to linebacker when the coaches saw how big he was.
Brown made the transition, but he admitted it wasn't exactly a smooth ride. He had problems with work ethic and maturity in addition to a few off-the-field issues.
"With Khari it's always been about maturity," Bevill said. "He had the talent, but would he be willing to do what was necessary to become great?"
Brown showed just enough potential to move up to varsity his sophomore year. He still had problems, however, especially with his temper. He tended to talk too much and get overly emotional on field.
As a sophomore he spent most of the season on the bench. Brown was humbled.
"I saw everyone around me getting better and that motivated me," Brown said. "Early on I talked too much on the field and there were times when I'd get really mad and it would affect my game. But then I learned to focus on the next play and not worry about the previous one.
"I started working hard every day," Brown continued. "I decided then I wanted to be great, one of the greatest in 2011."
The McNamara staff noticed a major change in Brown heading into 2009. He came into camp in shape and determined to impress. He no longer complained after a botched play, instead directing his anger towards the opposing running back. By the end of two-a-days, Bevill named Brown his starting middle linebacker.
"He grew physically, spiritually and as a person," Bevill said. "He worked very hard to achieve his goals. And when he would get upset he would channel it in the right direction."
This offseason, Bevill has seen Brown grow even more. The coach believes he's ready to become a team leader.
"He understands what he has to do to be a leader on and off the field," Bevill continued. "He knows what has to happen from a team standpoint, and a personal standpoint. He's teaching the younger kids what needs to be done to be a successful player and a successful man."
Brown is embracing his new role. Like his teammates Robinson and Law, he's showing the underclassmen what needs to be done in the weight room and outside of school in order to be great. He's also serving as their mentor.
"I tell the younger guys that hard work really does pay off," Brown said. "It may not be now, but in the future it will eventually pay off."
Brown's hard work has certainly paid some dividends. At least now his coaches, teammates and even the writers are noticing him.
But the recruiters are still holding out.
Bevill believes that will change.
"He's getting a wide variety of looks from Division I-AA and some Division I schools," Bevill said. "He just has to perform consistently on tape this year."
"Whether it's DI-A or I-AA, I can see myself at that level. I have confidence in my abilities. I'm willing to do everything to accomplish my dream."