Competitive friendship

Nick Walton

Playmaking duo elevates defense with a close bond

Brian Lainhart and Cobrani Mixon are constant competitors.

But they’re not enemies.

The junior safety and linebacker have friendly competitions on everything from racing to their apartment to seeing who can hold their breath longer underwater.

While playing “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09” with former Kent State quarterback and current NFL player Julian Edelman, the level of competition intensified.

“The first day I got my brand new (Xbox 360) controller and Julian was talking about beating me in Tiger Woods,” Lainhart said. “He finally beat me, and I just chucked (the controller) against the wall I was so mad.”

Even with the intense competition, Lainhart and Mixon have a strong friendship that began in high school.

The friendship started when Lainhart moved to Colerain High School in Cincinnati his freshman year. During two-a-days and the school year, the two met and later helped lead the school to a state championship in 2004.

“It was kind of crazy how close we were and being able to do something like (winning a championship), not too many people do that,” Mixon said.

Coming out of high school, Mixon was a four-star prospect and the No. 8 linebacker recruit in the nation, according to Mixon chose to play at Michigan.

“We wanted to do our own thing a little bit in college,” Mixon said. “We both had different offers, and we just kind of went our separate paths.”

Lainhart had a different road to college. A two-star prospect with a 5.0 rating on meant analysts thought Lainhart could potentially be a mid-major recruit, a role player.

During their year apart, the players stayed in contact with each other and tried to go back home at the same time, but Lainhart said it was a different experience.

“It was weird because (Mixon) always stayed at my house in high school even during the school days, always with the family, (we even) vacationed with each other,” Lainhart said. “Coming to (Kent State) was like always looking to the side and he’s not there.”

After suffering an injury at Michigan, Mixon was unhappy with the start of his collegiate career and wanted a new beginning.

“I called Brian and told him I wanted to transfer . I asked him to ask the coaches if they had scholarships for me and if they did let me know,” Mixon said. “I remember we went home together actually and were talking about it, and the coach called me on the phone and said they did. So I ended up telling him I was going to come there.”

Mixon sat out the 2007 season because of NCAA guidelines but rejoined Lainhart on the field last season.

“In high school, we always got along well on the field,” Lainhart said. “We always had each other’s back on the field, and then when I came up here and once he got to play last year it was like high school all over again.”

Last season Mixon was third on the team in tackles with 73 and Lainhart’s six interceptions led the Mid-American Conference. The players’ competition off the field helps fuel their play on the field.

“I think it’s easier with us together because we keep reminding each other of our goals,” Mixon said. “When you’re on your own, it’s kind of hard to remember your goals, but we’re always in each other’s ear reminding each other what we want to accomplish.”

The players’ love of competition extends to the field as they compete for production plaques. The plaques are given to defensive players who earn points for tackles, interceptions and other statistics. Whoever gets the most points for a week earns a plaque.

“We’ve got them hanging up in the living room,” Lainhart said. “He’s got his section and he got his (Mid-American Conference) player of the week, and I got mine this week, and I’m going to hang it up right in the middle of the living room.”

Kent State coach Doug Martin said Lainhart and Mixon’s relationship is good because of their roles on the team.

“Safeties and linebackers have to communicate so much with each other,” Martin said. “They’ve been together so long, they probably don’t have to speak. They know what (the) other is thinking.”

Despite their own bond, the two try not to exclude their other teammates.

“We’ll all watch the big game, or the fight on Saturday everybody came over,” Lainhart said. “We try to keep it a defensive unity, a team unity. We don’t try to make it just ‘oh we’re about to do this, ya’ll can’t do this.'”

Martin said the players are special because they have been able to adjust their skills to the collegiate level.

“I hear all the time young players say ‘boy this isn’t as fun as it was in high school,'” Martin said. “The fun is competing with each other, proving that you can play at a high level. Once you get to this level, because all the guys that are here now were great players in high school, the difference is can you raise it another level once you get here, and that’s what those two guys do.”

Martin said Lainhart and Mixon’s friendship shows how relationships can be formed from football.

“The guys you play college football with are guys you’ll be friends with the rest of your life,” Martin said. “That’s true for all of us that coach, that played the game. It will be true for all of these guys, and as they get older, they’ll appreciate these relationships more and more.”

Contact sports reporter Nick Walton at [email protected].