LINCOLN, Neb. — Kevin Maurice really didn’t have a choice.
With Vincent Valentine, Malik Collins and Kevin Williams all leaving Nebraska for various reasons after last season, Maurice, a senior defensive tackle, looked around one day and realized he was the eldest defensive lineman. And when he realized that, he knew he had to be the big brother for the young guys.
He’d never started a game at that point and had barely gotten onto the field, but he felt like it was his duty to start to lead.
“There really wasn’t a choice but to,” Maurice said.
But he says he’s embraced it and likes showing the young guys how to lift and how to play.
And, according to his coaches, he’s set the tone for the younger players.
“It think he’s been good for (the young guys) to see he can play 70, 80 plays without a sub and he knows how to play banged up, he knows how to play tired, he knows how to do what we’re asking him to do,” defensive line coach John Parrella said on Tuesday. “And for them they get to see he’s still trying to learn things that we’re teaching him.”
What the coaches have liked even more than his mentorship is his play. Maurice has 28 tackles on the year and is second on the team with 3 sacks.
Pro Football Focus selected Maurice as the best defensive tackle in the country last week for his performance against Minnesota. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker isn’t really into analytics and stats, but he knows this: Nebraska’s defense wouldn’t be the same without him.
“Kevin Maurice is the heart and soul of that defensive front,” Banker said.
Banker said the statistic that stands out to him is the back-to back sacks Maurice had against Northwestern.
“To me he was the greatest tackle in the world that particular day,” Banker said.
But beyond the numbers, Banker likes the intangibles Maurice provides.
“I don’t care what numbers say, he plays his ass off, he’s a great leader, he’s a good guy to be around, he brings a certain amount of toughness, work ethic and, guess what, it just so happens he’s really grinding his way in every game to make plays that people don’t even see,” Banker said.
Parrella thinks Maurice has another gear he hasn’t tapped. As the defensive line coach put it, Maurice is still learning how to use some new tools in his toolshed.
After graduation, Banker said an NFL team would be lucky to have Maurice on the roster.
“He’ll make a team, he’ll make it to a camp, and then his work ethic and his abilities will shine,” Banker said. “And if that team needs a tackle, he’ll make that team.”
And if that NFL team down the road by chance ends up needing someone to take care of younger rookies, Maurice could probably do that, too.