As someone who has pingponged from defense to offense and back again, Brandon Barnes considers being called a leader a compliment.
This season, Barnes and James Kinney, Missouri’s starting linebackers, have set a thumping example for the rest of the defense.
“Everything’s for the team,” Barnes said. “If it just so happens that we get looked upon as leaders, then so be it.”
Kinney is No. 2 in the Big 12 Conference with 12.3 tackles per game, and Barnes is No. 11 with 8.9 per game. MU coach Gary Pinkel said the team needed Barnes, a senior, and Kinney, a junior, to step into more significant roles.
“We’ve needed leadership on our defense, (because) a lot of young players, half the players, this is the first year they’ve started,” Pinkel said. “It’s nice to see them rise to the occasion.”
Barnes has had several adjustments to make; he played free safety in 2001 and wide receiver in 2002. He said linebacker is not hard for him, though.
“Make sure you tackle, make sure you keep leverage, make plays,” Barnes said. “That’s really all there is to it.”
This is Kinney’s second year as a captain, so it is easy for Barnes to look at him as a good example. Many younger players see Kinney that way, too.
“He has brought this defense a long way,” outside safety Dedrick Harrington said. “Whenever he’s leading, everybody listens; that’s one thing about him. You can’t help but respect a man who’s out there and being physical.”
When Kinney is not playing, his teammates said he is quiet. Don’t mistake that for meekness, though.
“If he doesn’t think people are listening to him, he’s not scared to yell at you,” defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison said. “It’s more serious to him than some people. Some people are playing for different reasons. He takes it personal.”
At the end of the third quarter of the Tigers’ game against Nebraska on Oct. 11, MU trailed 24-14. Kinney shouted unprintable words in his teammates’ faces on the sidelines and threw his water bottle on the ground.
The defense did not give up another point. Kinney’s teammates said his outburst was needed and helped them focus.
“His emotions took over, and he was just trying to get everybody else’s emotions to pick up on the same level as his,” defensive end Zach Ville said.
Senior center A.J. Ricker, a captain along with Kinney, said Kinney knows when to speak up.
“Mainly he’s a pretty quiet guy, (but) he says all the right things at the right time” Ricker said.
Sophomore cornerback Calvin Washington said part of the reason Kinney and Barnes are so effective is that they play well together.
“The way they’ve been playing lately, the way they’ve been connecting in games, covering each others’ back and completing their assignments, it’s kind of in a way surprising because I didn’t know when they worked together they could be that good,” Washington said.
Pinkel said leadership is most important in times of adversity, and Kinney and Barnes have responded well; in the Nebraska game, for example. Because of that, their teammates trust them.
“It’s just a confidence thing that we have in them just knowing that they’re going to get their job done,” Washington said. “I just think they can do even better; I don’t think they have had their best game yet.”