|Brunner: the face of Redbird football|
|Written by Kevin Massoth, Daily Vidette Sports Editor|
|Wednesday, 29 September 2010 18:26|
Many Illinois State football fans would say the Redbirds are sophomore quarterback Matt Brown’s team. Others might say ISU is led by running backs Ashton Leggett and Erik Smith, or linebackers Josh Howe and Austin Davis.
When it comes to statistics, those fans might be right, but according to ISU Head Coach Brock Spack, there is only one player deserving of that leading role for the Redbirds.
“This has slowly become Eric Brunner’s team,” Spack said. “He’s strapped them on his back. I’ve only been around a couple guys that can do that, especially at my defensive tackle position.”
Brunner, a 6-foot-2, 283-pound junior, has flown somewhat under the radar this season, as is easy for a defensive lineman to do.
But the Greendale, Wis., native has received praise from both his coaches and teammates for the job he has done throughout the Redbirds’ first four games.
“If you ask me about Eric Brunner, I could go on for hours and hours and hours on how Eric Brunner is changing Illinois State football,” Spack said. “You won’t see it in the statistics, but we see it as coaches and it’s just his approach to the game.”
Even to older veteran Redbirds such as senior cornerback E.J. Jones, Brunner is a leader they can look up to and expect to give a complete effort every game and practice.
“When I look to Eric Brunner, he gives me an element of confidence and security that everything is going to be fine because he’s going to go out there and he’s going to work hard and come through in the clutch,” Jones said. “He’s critical to our team, he really is.”
Jones added, “Eric Brunner is definitely somebody I look up to as a person and a player. He makes the world of difference as a defense. Eric Brunner is very much so a leader on this team.”
To Brunner, the faith his teammates have in him helps make his leadership role a bit easier especially because he is just a junior.
“It means a lot to know that they have that trust in me, and that makes my job easier because if I have suggestions and things like that, it’s comforting to know that they take what I say to heart and hopefully they’ll try and apply it,” Brunner said. “Even though some of those guys are older than me.”
Spack was not afraid to make bold comparisons when describing Brunner at ISU’s weekly press conference at Hancock Stadium this Tuesday. When Spack was defensive coordinator at Purdue in the late ‘90s, he coached a Boilermaker by the name of Rosevelt Colvin.
Spack considered the eventual NFL player Colvin as the difference maker to Purdue’s program turnaround in the late 90s, and he feels the same way about what Brunner is doing for the Redbirds.
But it is not just Brunner’s own personal play that makes him a difference maker for this Redbird team. His leadership by example has been an important measuring stick for each player to try and live up to on and off the field.
“He never misses practice, he’s always working hard and he has a 3.6 GPA; everything he does is good,” Spack said. “He himself is changing Illinois State football. In order for our program to change, change in mentality and change of culture, you have to have a player like that within your program.”
Although football is high on Brunner’s list of priorities, he recognizes the importance of having the same work ethic off the football field as he has on it.
“I like to think I’m a hard worker in not just football but school and jobs that I’ve had and things like that,” Brunner said. “I just hate losing and when we have a game, I’ll do anything to prevent that. Sometimes I go a little out of control.”
Brunner’s lively attitude on the field in the flow of the game is something else that sets him apart from other defensive lineman.
“I’ve just got a short circuit and that’s good for playing defensive line,” Brunner said. “It’s always a lot of fun to play with Dave Rivas and Mike Piton, my other two D-tackles, because we do a lot of trash talking on the field. I think that helps bring attitude to our team.”
Brunner added, “This past weekend, we were talking trash to the other team’s O-line and they just looked defeated. We managed to intimidate them with words, not just how we were playing.”
Brunner has made an impact on the Redbird football team whether it be his play, leadership or attitude on the field, and right now, he and his teammates are enjoying sitting atop the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“I love football and I love winning even more,” Brunner said. “Why even come out here and play if you don’t want to win?”