When Winona State senior cornerback Adonis Brown takes the field, he always takes his sister with him. Whether it is printed in block letters on his untucked undershirt, flying out beneath his jersey on gameday, or written on his athletic tape, he keeps the message with him, “R.I.P. NIA.”
“Nia was my sister that passed away when I was 5 years old,” he said. “I always try to go out and play for her and live for her because she never had a chance to have the life that I’ve had.”
Nia died from a breathing complication two weeks after her birth.
“I want to go out on the field and make it feel like she is with me and everybody knows that she is with me,” Brown said.
His sister has been with him for some pretty stellar play this season. Brown earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors this week after returning an interception for a touchdown in the Warriors’ 42-19 victory over Wayne State on Saturday.
He is a key cog in a WSU defensive unit that is tied for third in Division II in both interceptions and total turnovers with 15 and 23, respectively. Three of those turnovers belong to Brown, who has two interceptions and fumble recovery.
“It feels good, but it’s not my end goal of what I really want,” he said. “We all want that ring — a conference championship. So that’s more of what I focus on, not all the little accolades.
“Anytime one of us gets the player of the week, it means that our defense is top notch and that’s what we strive for.”
The cornerback has already played solid games against two of the top receivers in the NSIC, Jarred Edmonds of Upper Iowa and Damon Gibson of MSU Moorhead. Edmonds only had four catches for 56 yards against WSU, while Gibson had nine catches for 134, but didn’t score as the Warriors held the high-powered Dragons offense to 14 points.
“He’s had some tough assignments, there are great receivers in this league,” WSU coach Tom Sawyer said. “We kind of match him up with their best. We move him around a little bit. That’s the toughest position on the field to play after quarterback, corner, especially in this league with the receivers and quarterbacks here. He’s gotten better every week and that’s what we were hoping for. He’s a guy we count on.”
TOP 10 SHOWDOWN: The No. 10 Warriors travel to Mankato to play the No. 3 MSU Mankato Mavericks at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the first Top-10 matchup in WSU history.
On paper, WSU and Mankato are mirror images, boasting high-scoring offenses and stout defenses. The Mavericks average 45 points-per game and 11.8 against, while WSU averages 36.4 points-per game and 12.5 against.
“The difference is going to be big plays,” Sawyer said. “They make them. We make them. It comes down to who has them. And turnovers. That’s something we have an advantage in, and we play great special teams. We have to create extra possessions. That’s going to be the deciding factor is who has that extra possession.”
The Warriors are fourth in the country with a plus-12 turnovers margin, but Mankato quarterback Ryan Schlichte has only thrown two interceptions this season.
GROUND AND POUND: Both WSU and Mankato like to run the ball, stop the run, and control the clock. The Mavericks have two of the top four rushers in the NSIC, as sophomore running back Nate Gunn leads the conference — and is sixth nationally — with 1,115 yards, and redshirt-freshman Justin Taornia is fourth with 628.
WSU’s Javian Roebuck is sixth in the conference with 566 yards. He had consecutive games of 108, 156 and 173 yads against Upper Iowa, Sioux Falls and Concordia St Paul before sitting out the Wayne State game last week.
“The key is slowing it down,” Sawyer said. “They still have some great weapons at receiver, they’ve got two big 6-foot-4 guys that they throw to. And the quarterback is a good athlete. They’ve got more than just the running game. We’ve been able to stop the run. But we’re not going to stop it completely. They’re big, they’re huge guys up front.”
NO. 1 REGION RANKING: The Warriors were named the No. 1 team in Super Region Four in the season’s first regional rankings, ahead of No. 2 Central Washington and No. 3 Mankato. The top seven teams in each of four super regions make up the 28-team playoff field.
The regional ranking is based on strength of schedule index.
“We’ve played great competition,” Sawyer said. “Where in Mankato’s case, people say ‘How can they be ranked higher than you, but you’re the top in the region?’ It’s because their strength of schedule is 33-percent winning percentage and ours is 54 or 55.”