High School Sports

Flying past 500: 5-foot-4 linebacker is new 'Tackle King' at Long Beach High

PATRICK OCHS/SUN HERALD 
 Long Beach senior linebacker Kevin Wayne is leading the state in tackles and was a big part of the Bearcats' recent upset at Picayune.
PATRICK OCHS/SUN HERALD Long Beach senior linebacker Kevin Wayne is leading the state in tackles and was a big part of the Bearcats' recent upset at Picayune.

Kevin Wayne Jr. remembers coming to Lumpkin-Magee Stadium as a middle schooler and being mesmerized at what the Long Beach standout linebacker could accomplish.

"All you'd hear was 'Richie Brown, Richie Brown, Richie Brown,'" Wayne said Monday, sitting in the bleachers at the empty stadium. "I just wanted it to be like that when I got in high school."

Brown was a maroon-and-white blur, running sideline to sideline to swoop in and make the tackle as the Bearcats' leader.

Now a redshirt junior at Mississippi State, Brown eventually set the Long Beach High career tackles mark with 522 over the course of three seasons -- a detail he likes to point out.

Last week, with a 19-tackle performance against Gautier, Wayne eclipsed his childhood idol and heads into Friday's senior night contest against Stone High as Long Beach's "Tackle King" with 549.

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"My freshman year my defensive coordinator told me that if I stayed on pace I could get the career tackles record. I never thought I would be able to catch that," Wayne said. "Richie Brown. Five hundred tackles. Well year by year I was getting closer and closer and my senior year I thought I might be able to do it. When I finally did, my family was so happy."

Wayne registered 106 tackles as a freshman, 113 as a sophomore and another 155 last season. This year he's averaging 17.5 tackles per game.

"It's awesome," he said. "Especially because Richie is over at Mississippi State. I'm close with Richie, too, so it's awesome to have that over him."

Following Tuesday's practice at MSU, Brown said if anyone was to snap his career mark, he was happy it was Wayne.

"I'm glad he did. He deserves it," Brown said. "He works hard. I wish him the best."

Heart trumps size

Statistically, comparisons can be drawn between Brown and Wayne. With 175 tackles on the season, Wayne not only leads Mississippi, but according to MaxPreps.com, he's eighth nationally.

The two begin to separate from one another when they step onto a scale. While Brown was listed at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds as a senior and was courted by a host of upper-echelon colleges, Wayne doesn't quite wow you with his stature -- which makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.

Listed at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Wayne is probably closer to 5-4, 175 and runs a 4.84-second 40-yard dash. So how does he do it?

"He has always had a nose for the ball and gets to it well," Long Beach coach Forrest Williams said. "He has had a great career here. Every week you can count on him. On the low end he'll have 10 tackles, an average night he's at 15, and on a great night he's at 20-25."

Wayne credits his father's early influence for his success.

"My dad taught me when I was little to just fly to the ball. See ball, go get ball," Wayne said. "He just told me to play with a lot more passion than the guys who are 6-foot-2 and born to play the position.

"I don't know how to explain it. It's just natural. My dad taught me that my base stance and that the lowest man always wins. That always stuck with me."

Overlooked

Wayne knows that when he first steps onto the field the opponent will likely overlook him and underestimate his ability. That's fine, he said. On the gridiron, it's not the first impression he wants to linger, it's the last.

"Every team we go against I know they're thinking, 'oh this linebacker is just 5-foot-nothing, we're going to run over him all game,'" Wayne said. "I want them to remember they can't run my side. I like being an underdog."

"Underdog." That's a term both Wayne and Brown passionately used when describing the senior Bearcat.

"I know size is a big advantage but he has a lot of heart. It's good to see the underdog do well," Brown said Tuesday night. "Sometimes people don't expect the little guy to go out and do what he did so I'm proud of him. I'm glad to see someone from Long Beach doing that."

The Bearcats are coming off of an impressive upset where they clipped Picayune 36-34 in overtime. Friday, Long Beach (2-8, 1-4 Region 4-5A) hosts Stone for senior night before concluding the season at West Harrison next week.

Looking ahead, Wayne knows that to have a chance at playing college ball he's going to have to do what he's always done -- let his play do his talking.

Outside of a brief phone conversation with a Mississippi College coach, Wayne hasn't drawn a lot of college interest.

"I don't want my football career to end like this. I love football. I just can't see myself not playing football," he said, a light drizzle beginning to fall from the gray sky. "I'm just hoping somewhere they look past the height and see I have a big heart and can play."

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