Mind over matter


File photo by Jessica Yanesh.

Lance Lysowski

Brian Lainhart had just run up the 94 steps to the top of Dix Stadium.

Former Kent State defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis was upset.

It wasn’t Lainhart who had missed the assignment on the previous play.

But Lainhart was the leader of Kent State’s defense. If someone made a mistake, Rekstis turned to Lainhart.

Back at the top of the stairs, Lainhart started to walk down.

Rekstis yelled, “Did I tell you that you could walk?”

Rekstis was testing Lainhart. He tested him every day.

From Lainhart’s first day on campus, Rekstis saw untapped potential in the big-hitting safety.

“Everybody from the beginning knew he was going to be a special player,” Rekstis said.

That was three years ago.

344 tackles, 17 interceptions and three all-conference selections later, Lainhart is a different man.

Lainhart is preparing to prove to everyone that he belongs in the National Football League.


Six years ago, Lainhart visited Kent State with more than 100 other possible recruits. At that point, no other Division-I or Division-IAA school had offered the defensive back from Cincinnati Colerain High School a scholarship.

Lainhart was getting ready to go home that Sunday when former head coach Doug Martin called him into his office.

Before Martin was even able to finish offering him a scholarship, Lainhart said yes.

“I did everything I could to prove to every other team that didn’t offer me, to prove them wrong,” Lainhart said. “I feel like I’m doing the same thing now.”

Lainhart was redshirted his first year on campus, but he did all that he could off the field. He followed current NFL receiver Julian Edelman and current NFL defensive backs Usama Young and Jack Williams into every meeting. He lived with them his first summer on campus.

“Brian believed he was as good or better than any of them,” Rekstis said.

When Lainhart was not in the weight room attempting to add weight to his 178-pound frame, he was watching game film.

Not just film of defensive backs, but of every position on defense.


Lainhart went on to start his next three seasons with the Flashes as the leader of the team’s defense. His signature closed-cropped mohawk and beard were the face of Kent State football.

Even in his second year starting, his teammates looked to him.

Whether the team won or lost, Lainhart knew that as a leader, he had to keep his emotions in check.

After picking up a win in conference play, he refused to celebrate. After losing a close game the following week, Lainhart kept his feelings to himself.

“That’s how my parents are,” Lainhart said. “Even when things are going good, don’t show it. Be humble.”

Lainhart’s attitude and character are two traits which are intriguing pro scouts the most as the NFL Draft approaches.


A path toward the NFL hasn’t been easy.

He wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which would have been a chance to show pro scouts from every team what he was capable of.

“I didn’t get invited to the combine so people are still doubting me even though I had more interceptions that anyone in Division I,” Lainhart said.

“Like, what else do I have to do? But hey, that’s fine with me. That’s kind of the story of my life: proving people wrong.”

He did start the East/West Shrine game on Jan. 21 where he played in front of NFL coaches and general managers, but the ball never came his way.

But when scouts came to Kent State’s pro day, he got to show off the most.

He lifted 28 repetitions of 225 lbs., which would rank him at the top of all defensive backs at the combine, while his short shuttle, long shuttle and vertical jump rank him among the best.

He excelled in positional drills where he displayed lateral movement and ability.

When the nine scouts lined up players for positional drills, he caught every pass that came his way.

“I love training and all of that kind of stuff, too, but I just love football,” Lainhart said. “The best part of my workout was the football part. My eyes lit up when it was time to do drills.”

Several of the scouts took Lainhart to lunch to test his knowledge of the game and to get a feel for what kind of a player they would be investing not only money on, but a roster spot.

They took Lainhart to Chipotle Mexican Grill and handed him a napkin.

They told him to draw up every play he can run, what he does in every scenario and answer questions as the group discussed the assignments.

The scouts were awed.

Lainhart’s capacity for the game mirrored that of a NFL veteran. He not only knows what defensive backs are doing on each play, but the linebackers and defensive lineman.


Teams have taken wagers on players like Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Edelman, Young and Williams, who have the same intangibles as Lainhart.

The player may be a step too slow or a few inches too short, but each year, teams take a chance on players from schools like Kent State.

“I know from a couple of scouts that like evaluating guys or taking chances on guys from smaller schools because they know we’re hungry,”

Lainhart said. “Maybe at some of the other big schools, maybe some players have everything handed to them on a silver platter.”

Lainhart is projected to be a late-round draft pick or undrafted free agent. While Pro Day is finished and his first unofficial job interview is over, he’ll attend scheduled private workouts before the draft on April 28-30.

Lainhart wants the pro scouts to see that his knowledge of the game and playmaking ability make him special.

“Whenever we needed a big play, whether it be a forced fumble, interception, a big hit or whatever it was — I seemed to make them,” Lainhart said. “That’s kind of my M.O., and that’s something I offer teams.”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].