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Tiny Miss. St. linebacker hopes for big start

JACKSON, Miss. – Middle linebackers are supposed to be bone-crunching hulks, but Mississippi State’s Karlin Brown sure doesn’t fit that mold.

At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds he’s the smallest starting middle linebacker in the Southeastern Conference.

“I’m probably the smallest in the nation,” Brown said.

Brown will make his first career start Saturday against No. 9 Auburn, one of college football’s most physically imposing teams. He replaces Jamar Chaney, who was lost for the season to a broken leg two weeks ago.

Yet nobody seems worried. To his teammates, he’s the little linebacker who could.

“Oh, man, he’s a little ball of physicality, man,” safety Derek Pegues said. “He’ll bring a different attitude. People might think him weak or whatever for his size, but when he hits you he brings it. He’s probably one of the hardest hitters on the team.”

And often that hit comes out of nowhere. This mighty mite’s size appears to work to his advantage.

“I know I’ve heard our offensive line say on more than one occasion they can’t see him, then all the sudden he pops up and he’s there,” coach Sylvester Croom said. “Or they saw him and all the sudden he’s gone.”

It’s always been this way for Brown. Over time he learned that if he wanted to play linebacker he would have to figure out how to match the presence and production of the big boys. He uses his speed — he has run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and the 100 meters in 10.71 seconds — to track down ballcarriers and his leverage to put them down. But what is more important he uses his mind to make sure he’s rarely out of position.

Coming out of Tallahassee, Fla., Brown chose Mississippi State over several others because Croom used the “nobody’s perfect” philosophy and was willing to overlook his shortcomings and concentrate on those positive traits.

“He was such a vicious tackler even though he did not necessarily fit the prototype,” Croom said. “A lot of our players do not necessarily fit our recruiting prototype for the position. Of course you’d like to get the ideal guys, but sometimes you see a guy that may not fit the entire profile but brings something to the table you like. His ability to one-on-one tackle is impressive.”

Still, Brown had his doubters when he showed up in Starkville last year. But he won his dubious teammates over in a matter of days.

“A lot of the guys were kind of skeptical of me playing linebacker,” Brown said. “But I just came out and showed I’m a good player, I’ve got heart. I’m ready to put my nose in the fire. Once I proved myself, there wasn’t any doubt.”

Brown will have to prove himself all over Saturday, a challenge he has no question he’ll meet. “Don’t let the size fool you,” Brown said. “I’m not going to let my team down.”