Walter Brady embraces wearing the No. 56

From fights with his high school coach to the call from coach Kuligowski, Walter Brady leads Mizzou’s defensive line in sacks.

Stepping right, spinning left and getting to South Carolina’s Lorenzo Nunez for his second sack of the game on Saturday, Mizzou’s 2015-16 No. 56 looked like Shane Ray.

But before Saturday and before donning the former All-American’s number ever became a possibility, redshirt freshman Walter Brady had to gain weight.

And for Brady to gain 30 pounds, it took lots of milkshakes, muscle and motivation.

“Well, walking into my senior year (of high school), I weighed about 225,” Brady said. “They tried to put me at linebacker. It wasn’t working out as much, so I turned to just shakes and the weight room. That’s what it took to get to 255.”

One wouldn’t have guessed that, among the likes of Charles Harris, Josh Augusta and Terry Beckner Jr., Brady would lead Mizzou in sacks through five games.

But thus far, his five-sack total ranks second in the Southeastern Conference and 12th in the NCAA.

His progression is fitting, junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. Coach Gary Pinkel agrees, and so too do many of the players. His work ethic, his competitiveness and, most importantly, his mindset have made the difference.

“It’s not too surprising,” Scherer said. “We’ve seen flashes of what he can do, but it just wasn’t consistent before and now it is. A lot of it is his attitude; it’s helped his game a ton. He works harder in practice now, and when you work harder in practice like he does, the results show in the game.”

It’s been a long road for Brady, though, who only four days before signing day in 2014, flipped his commitment from Middle Tennessee State.

As a junior at Trezevant High School in Memphis, Tennessee, it’s said that Brady and coach Teli White used to jaw back-and-forth. Without an SEC offer and with offers from only Memphis and Middle Tennessee late in his recruitment, his goal of reaching the NFL seemed distant.

Then, in the same way it works for many who take the field on Saturday's in black and gold, Mizzou came in full force.

“It was all completely unexpected,” Brady told the Columbia Daily Tribune. “I got a message from coach Kul on Twitter one day, and he said, ‘I’m coming to see you.’”

Like Aldon Smith, who had similar behavioral issues in high school but also added great contributions as a redshirt freshman, that’s something he’s had to grow out of.

And late in his high school career, his mom thought a move from Memphis to Florence, Alabama, would benefit her kids and Walter.

But Brady took exception.

“That was a decision that my mom made in the best interest of her children, and I’ve ended up here,“ Brady said. “I was a little worried about making that transition, but it ended up working out for the best.”

Now Brady is on pace for a better freshman campaign that Smith, Sheldon Richardson and even Ray had at Mizzou.

After the Connecticut win earlier this year, Brady said he told Ray, “I’m the real 56.” On Monday, he elaborated.

“Much respect to Shane in what he’s done here,” Brady said. “Knowing what he did here wearing this number, it’s motivation every day to go out and do it better (than he did).”

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