COLUMBIA - Pig Brown is hungry. He’s starving, in fact.
Don’t worry. It has nothing to do with the senior’s diet. The Tigers’ strong safety is fit. The junior college transfer arrived last summer in Columbia weighing 220 pounds, but now he’s down to 205.
Brown is eager to feast on interceptions. Last season, he didn’t have any for the Tigers. It was the first time in his career, including his childhood, when he didn’t get a taste of the pigskin.
“I’m gonna come in this season with a little chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Like, ‘Man, I went one year out of about 10 or 11 years without an interception.’”
Brown should have plenty of opportunities to sate himself this season.
After transferring from Riddley (Calif.) Community College last summer, he has become a defensive leader. Elected as one of the team’s four captains, he and free safety William Moore are projected to replace departed starters David Overstreet and Brandon Massey.
Brown made an impression on one of the team’s defensive standouts when he moved to Columbia last summer. He lived with defensive tackle and fellow captain Lorenzo Williams, and the two quickly bonded.
“I kind of helped him through the first days,” Williams said, “and he just took off from there.”
The respect runs deep between the two friends.
“I just really respect him (Williams) more as a man than as a player for what he did for me last year,” Brown said.
The two play off the field together as well, teaming up and “killing everybody” in spades, Williams said.
Brown saw plenty of action last season, playing in 12 games and recording 40 tackles. But Brown could have had a more productive year, Williams said, if he hadn’t sprained his ankle early in the season.
During 11-on-11 drills at Monday’s morning practice, Brown demonstrated his defensive skills — good close-out speed and punishing power.
Quarterback Chase Daniel fired a short pass right into tight end Martin Rucker’s hands. Brown quickly reacted and hit the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Rucker, forcing him to drop the ball.
His wit is also fast. Moore said their safety meetings are never boring.
“He’s always got a joke for something,” he said. “Always.”
Another distinguishing feature are Brown’s dreadlocks, which resemble former Miami Dolphins’ running back Ricky Williams’ hairstyle. They shoot out from his helmet and flap around as he darts in coverage. The dreads may be the only thing the two share. Unlike the notoriously reserved, enigmatic Williams, who wouldn’t remove his helmet for interviews early in his career, Brown believes it’s his duty to reach out to everyone.
“I don’t shy away from nobody,” Brown said, “because that’s not the way to be.”
Although Brown is outgoing, he becomes more serious when discussing his responsibility as captain, deferring credit to his teammates.
“We’re just gonna feed off each other,” he said.
Brown got his nickname when he was young because he was too eager to be fed.
“I was just messy and sloppy,” said Brown, whose real first name is Cornelius. “When I was little, I was kind of on the heavy side.”
Although Brown no longer lives up to his nickname because he watches what he eats, he says he could compete with the team’s prodigious eaters: the offensive and defensive linemen.
“Oh, yeah,” he said with a smile. “I can keep up with those guys.”
During the preseason, the press has doted on the offense while raising questions about the Tigers’ defense. But the No. 1 and 2 defenses dominated every drill during Monday’s practice, coach Gary Pinkel said.
“Maybe the offense’s reading the papers a little bit too much,” he said, “and the defense is, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good, too.’ I think that’s healthy.”
During 11-on-11 drills, the defense clogged running lanes, pressured the quarterback and initiated several momentary showdowns with the offense with hard hits.
Cornerback Darnell Terrell and linebacker Michael Keck have minor injuries. Both practiced, but did not participate in contact drills. Terrell tweaked his hamstring during a workout two weeks ago, and Keck has a thigh bruise.