Small school, giant talent: Millsaps’ great Sean Brewer

Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

(Millsaps’ Sean Brewer, selected for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2016, Tuesday night goes into the College Football Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. This was my column when Brewer was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame last January.

The so-called football factories contributed by far the most to the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015. No surprise there. You’ve got superstars such as Ricky Williams of Texas, Brian Bosworth of Oklahoma, Trev Alberts of Nebraska and Wes Chandler of Florida. …

And right there, right in the middle of them, you’ve got: Sean Brewer, Millsaps College.

He may be a surprise, but he belongs.

Congratulations to Brewer, but also congrats to the National Football Foundation

Sean Brewer
Sean Brewer

and College Football Hall of Fame for getting it right and for recognizing that excellence sometimes comes in smaller packages, from smaller places.

At Millsaps, in the early 1990s, Sean Brewer dominated games as an under-sized defensive lineman nobody could block. He was a 5-foot, 10-inch, 235-pound, one-man wrecking crew, who made 435 tackles and 52 quarterback sacks in four seasons, three of which he made first team All America.

Brewer was so good that the trophy that goes annually to the outstanding lineman in Division III is called the Sean Brewer Trophy. He was a Division I talent who didn’t fit the Division I mold. So many great football players – Sam Mills comes immediately to mind – have shown us you don’t have to be tall to make tackles. If Sam Mills is Exhibit A, then Sean Brewer makes a fine Exhibit B.

Family ties

The late, great Johnny Brewer, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer who starred at Ole Miss and then made All Pro and played on championship teams with the Cleveland Browns, would be so proud. Johnny, Sean’s dad, was his first coach in tiny Redwood, 10 miles north of Vicksburg.

“Football was supposed to start in the third grade, but Redwood was so small they let a few second graders play,” Sean Brewer, now a middle school principal in Madison, says. “My dad was the coach, which was pretty cool. How many second graders get an All-Pro, NFL Champion as a coach?”

Not many, but then how many second graders have a mother who was once a recording star and was the first serious girlfriend of Elvis Presley? Anita Wood Brewer, Sean’s mom, was before she fell in love with Johnny Brewer, a rangy, 6-4, 235-pounder who played both tight end and linebacker. Anita is petite, all of 5 feet, 2 inches.

Says Anita Brewer, laughing, “Poor Sean got his height from my side.”

Says Sean, “Actually, I fell kind of right in the middle.”

But the son had his dad’s football ability and his dad’s passion for the sport. At Warren Central, where he helped his team win a state championship, he played linebacker and fullback and then defensive tackle and offensive guard. He was quick, strong and relentless.

But he was also short, about four to five inches shorter than the linemen recruited to play D-I. Sean played and starred in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game. He played with – and well – against guys who would go on to play for Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, State and USM. But those schools passed on Brewer.

Does he wonder, Brewer is asked, what would have happened had he been given the opportunity at the higher level?

“I probably can’t count how many times the thought went through my head,” Sean Brewer says. “I had played against guys who became big stars. I think I know. … But, you know, I’ve been at peace with that for a long, long time. The good Lord put me where I needed to be, and I’ve never looked back. I love the guys I played with. I’ve got great memories.”

Many of those memories involve his dad helping Tommy Ranager coach the Millsaps Majors. Johnny Brewer, who worked in insurance, tailored his schedule so he could be at both Millsaps practices and all the games as a volunteer coach.

“We were able to be on the field together, sweat and practice together,” Sean Brewer says. “Being as close as I was to my dad, that meant a lot.”

Football-wise, Johnny Brewer taught Sean Brewer a lot more than technique.

“The best advice Dad ever gave me was that when you’ve worked as hard as you think you can, there’s always a little bit more,” Sean Brewer says. “He believed that your pursuit had to be for beyond perfection.”

Clearly, Sean Brewer took Johnny Brewer’s advice. Just as clearly, it paid.

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