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Southeast's Brock capitalizes on chance to start for Redhawks football team
An offseason injury to one of Southeast Missouri State's top defensive players created an opening for Tylor Brock.
Brock has taken full advantage to join the stars of a vastly improved Southeast defense that leads the Ohio Valley Conference in most major statistical categories.
Brock, a sophomore free safety, has turned in numerous big plays during this historic season for the Redhawks.
"He's having a great season and he still has a lot of room for improvement," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "He's a kid with a lot of athletic ability, great hand-eye coordination. He has great range. He understands coverages.
"He's our quarterback in the secondary."
Brock, after seeing a decent amount of action as a true freshman last year, now ranks among the OVC's premier defensive playmakers.
That might not have been the case had senior free safety Bryan Blanfort, Southeast's No. 2 tackler last year, not suffered a season-ending knee injury during spring practice.
"It definitely gave me an opportunity, but we miss him," Brock said. "I learned a lot from him and he still helps me whenever I'm out there."
Blanfort, who took a medical redshirt, will be able to play his final collegiate season next year.
It's a good bet the two won't be sharing the same position in the future as the Redhawks no doubt will get both of them on the field at the same time.
Brock leads the OVC with six interceptions, having returned two for touchdowns. He is tied for 11th nationally in interceptions and already has equaled the school's single-season record held by six other players, most recently current NFL cornerback Dimitri Patterson in 2003.
"It's pretty neat," Brock said of tying the school record for interceptions. "I wish I had more, though."
It's the timing of his picks that's stood out.
Brock picked off a pass that was tipped by sophomore linebacker Darrick Borum in the closing minutes Sept. 18 at Southern Illinois. That sealed one of the biggest wins in program history.
Brock's 48-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter opened an 11-point lead two weeks later at defending OVC champion Eastern Illinois. Southeast went on to win at Eastern for the first time since 1957.
Brock's interception and 67-yard return set up a second-half touchdown that helped seal a comeback victory two weeks later at Austin Peay.
Brock's most recent interception wasn't as vital, but he did return it 39 yards for a touchdown Saturday as the Redhawks opened a 13-0 first-quarter lead on the way to their ninth straight win, 40-14 over Division II Southwest Baptist.
"I feel that's what separates me from other people. I make big plays, or try to make big plays," said Brock, who has one-third of Southeast's 18 interceptions. The Redhawks are tied for first nationally.
Brock is averaging a whopping 29 yards per return on his six interceptions. His longest return was the 67-yarder against Austin Peay, which also caused him the most grief.
"I should have three [touchdowns]," Brock said. "I got tackled at the 2. I got teased about that."
Brock also has broken up two passes and ranks sixth on the team with 46 tackles.
That all has come after a freshman season that saw Brock compile 11 tackles backing up Blanfort while also playing on special teams.
But even last year Brock displayed a knack for scoring as he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone during the season-opening win over Division II Quincy.
Brock wasn't certain how much playing time he would get this year until Blanfort went down.
"I definitely wanted it to come, but I wasn't sure," Brock said. "I was behind Bryan, probably the best player on our team last year."
Brock, a graduate of Parkway North High School in suburban St. Louis, played quarterback as well as defensive back for the Vikings. Samuel credits Brock's experience behind center for helping him know what to expect from collegiate signal callers.
"He understands how they're thinking, the reaction time," Samuel said.
Said Brock: "It just helps me kind of be able to know what the quarterback is thinking, what he sees."
Brock played for a strong prep program but had to take a back seat to current teammate Blake Peiffer when both were seniors.
Peiffer, a sophomore linebacker, helped lead Jackson to a 30-0 win at Parkway North in the sectional round of the 2008 playoffs.
"We kidded a little about it at first, but we're on the same team now," Brock said.
Brock, majoring in architecture -- "I would love to some day design houses," he said -- should make a return to the playoffs this season, which would be Southeast's first postseason appearance on any level.
The Redhawks are virtually assured of a playoff berth at 9-1 and ranked seventh nationally
"It definitely has [been a surprise]," Brock said about the sensational season that followed a 2-9, last-place OVC campaign in 2009. "But I definitely saw we had the potential and everything finally came together."
The Redhawks, 7-0 in conference play, visit sixth-ranked Jacksonville State (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday with the OVC title and the league's automatic playoff berth on the line.
Southeast already has locked up at least a tie for the program's first OVC championship but is aiming to claim the crown outright when they end the regular season in Jacksonville, Ala.
"We don't want to share anything," Brock said.