“I see my teammates having more confidence in me making the right calls and in my judgment out there. I’ve come a long way.” Kevin Minter, LSU linebacker
Kevin Minter grew up 25 miles from fellow Georgia native Kelvin Sheppard’s hometown, but the similarities he shares with one of the better linebackers of the Les Miles era don’t end there.
Sheppard took a redshirt at LSU in 2006, served as a backup in 2007 and became a part-time starter in 2008, when he registered 64 tackles. He had 85 stops in his first two seasons. Minter took a redshirt at LSU in 2009, served as a backup in 2010 and became a part-time starter in 2011, when he had 61 tackles.
He enters his third season with 76 career stops.
That’s good company to be in, but Minter knows he has a long way to go.
“Following in his footsteps, it’s big shoes to fill,” Minter said. “‘Shep’ was a great player. I always look up to him — him and Perry (Riley), to be honest with you. I just hope to be as good as him one day.”
Sheppard blossomed into a star over his final two college seasons, racking up 100-plus tackles both years and earning All-Southeastern Conference recognition as a senior. But he may be remembered most for the fiery manner in which he led his teammates.
Minter got his feet wet as a sophomore last year, starting 11 games while sharing time with Karnell Hatcher at middle linebacker.
He said he believes he has gotten a little stronger and a little faster. But he’s just as proud to say he has evolved into more of a leader.
“In gelling as a linebacking corps and being together as a defense, I see my teammates having more confidence in me making the right calls and in my judgment out there,” said Minter, who hails from Suwanee, Ga., a short trip down I-85 from Sheppard’s hometown of Stone Mountain. “I’ve come a long way.”
Even wearing baggy shorts and a T-shirt, Minter looks like a tackling machine when he walks in the room.
He stands 6-foot-2, 246 pounds, with a neck like Brian Urlacher and legs like Troy Polamalu. He was one of the strongest players on the LSU team soon after arriving from Peachtree Ridge High off a standout career as a powerlifter.
Now, as the defensive play-caller, he will be a quarterback of sorts for one of the nation’s most talented defenses.
“He has improved his game,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “He is becoming a leader for us.”
As he moves from role player to playmaker, Minter will serve as the anchor of an otherwise green linebacking corps.
Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones will likely line up alongside Minter in the Sept. 1 season opener with only two career starts between them. Six true freshmen have impressed during the preseason and could push the veterans for playing time.
Minter said he has improved his skills this past year, but the biggest difference he sees is in the way he understands the game.
He isn’t thinking as much. Just reacting.
“Everything’s just clicking right now,” he said. “It’s becoming second nature.”