DeVaughn Black will be part
of a multiple tailback rotation
for the Tigers in 1999.
June 17, 1999
COLUMBIA, Mo.-- The 1999 football season at the University of Missouri - at least at the onset - will be punctuated by the changing of the guard.
Gone are many of the stalwarts who fueled the football turnaround at MU the last three years - guys like Corby Jones, Devin West, Harold Piersey, Craig Heimburger, Todd Neimeyer, Justin Wyatt, Caldrinoff Easter, to name a few. Player evaluation was important during spring football, especially on offense where six veteran starters have departed - including game breakers Jones and West at quarterback and tailback, respectively, and four members of the offensive line.
Three starters depart in the defensive secondary, too. "We use spring practice to identify our top 22 players on offense and our top 22 players on defense. There is an emphasis on fundamentals -- blocking and tackling, and some experimentation," Coach Larry Smith said.
And the coaching staff found some able successors to the departees, albeit in some cases, players who will taste their first action this fall. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Smith and his staff will be able to reload. First, the success of the past two seasons has created an air of confidence among the Tiger holdovers, and secondly, several years of recruiting success have elevated the MU talent pool.
And a big benefit to this year's MU team has been the availability of the Devine Pavilion. The indoor practice facility, which opened last August, gave the Tigers opportunities to work out throughout the winter. Smith says the biggest beneficiaries have been the Mizzou passing and kicking games. "We're throwing, catching and kicking the ball better than we ever have before," he said.
Still, it will take some time for the Tigers to evolve into the same kind of offensive juggernaut as the past two years.
"We expect early in the season that our defense will be very, very strong. Our thinking is that they might carry our team and give the offense time to mature," Smith said.
Missouri returns 11 starters - six on offense, and five on defense - from last year's club that went 8-4 and defeated West Virginia, 34-31, in the Insight.com Bowl. It was MU's best record since 1980, its first bowl victory since 1981, and the Tigers were ranked 21st in the final Associated Press poll.
"The thing we have to do is establish, first, that we're a winner again," Smith said. "Then, secondly, we have to get ourselves in a position where we can play for a championship. And win."
QUARTERBACK - This was the most scrutinized position in the spring with four candidates battling for the position occupied by Jones for most of the last four years. Two emerged - sophomore Jim Dougherty (6-4, 190) and redshirt freshman Kirk Farmer (6-5, 216).
"They basically, between the two of them, have zilch in game experience - zero," Smith said. "So it's going to be a matter of game-to-game building of that experience. But both are excellent leaders, guys who can take charge in the huddle."
Junior Ryan Douglass, unable to wrest the job from Dougherty and Farmer, opted to transfer to SIU-Carbondale. His departure probably moves Kurt Propst up to the number-three position.
The only man on the MU roster who has completed a pass in a college game is Dougherty. He shared the backup duties with Douglass last season and tossed a 17-yard pass in the victory over Bowling Green. The son of his high school coach, Dougherty showed in the spring that he moves the chains.
Farmer and Propst are both products of nearby Jefferson City. Farmer, whose dad, Mike, was a Tiger QB in the early 1970s, redshirted last season and toiled long and hard in the MU weight room. He's the most talented athlete of the group, but also the most inexperienced.
Propst (6-2, 216) was seriously challenging for the backup role behind Jones in spring '98 when he suffered a broken leg and spent the last year in rehabilitation.
"I've always been a one-quarterback guy," Smith said, "but I'm not against playing two quarterbacks if it's going to help us win. It's quite possible that we'll go into the season with two quarterbacks.
"If you do, the important thing is that the two have to get along. There is no room for selfishness. They have to be truly team people."
To prepare for that possibility, Smith spent time in the off-season visiting with other coaches who've won with two signal callers, highly successful coaches like Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Florida's Steve Spurrier and Arizona's Dick Tomey.
RUNNING BACK - Gone is all-American Devin West, the nation's No. 5 rusher in 1998 with a school-record 1,578 yards. So, Mizzou is likely return to a multiple tailback rotation, much like it had two years ago with West and Brock Olivo, featuring senior DeVaughn Black (5-11, 213), sophomore Zain Gilmore (6-1, 220), and junior Ricardo Rhodes (5-6, 177).
"I have great confidence in DeVaughn Black," Smith says of the senior who ran for 48 yards in five carries against Kansas State last season while West was resting a tender ankle. He was also the leading rusher in the spring game, carrying 17 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. "Gilmore is a great young talent who just needs some seasoning, and Ricardo Rhodes had a great off season," Smith said.
At fullback, senior Rob West (6-0, 231) is the incumbant after starting six games last season - his first at MU. He's also the Tigers' leading returning ball carrier. West gained 165 yards on 32 carries in '98, and also caught seven passes for 58 yards.
Three young freshmen will support him. T.J. Leon (6-0, 215), who's often been compared to Olivo, moved to fullback after spending his redshirt season as a tailback. Another redshirt freshman in the mix is big Derek Perry (6-2, 245). Joe Chirumbolo (6-2, 220) spent last fall at home recovering from a wrist injury and entered MU in January. Also back at fullback is junior Nathan Proctor (5-11, 252).
New recruit Dan Davis (6-2, 230) is expected to challenge as well.
RECEIVERS - Missouri will be blessed with a veteran receiving corps in 1999, a group that also stands to benefit from the addition of some talented newcomers.
Senior Kent Layman (5-11, 185) is back for his third year. He's averaged 22 yards per reception the last two seasons while catching 47 passes. He needs to gain just 116 yards this season to move into the MU career top-10 for receiving yards.
Also back are the two men who split the starting assignments opposite Layman last season. Junior John Dausman (6-1, 182) used his 4.3 speed last season to become a big-play threat. He caught 18 passes for an average gain of 20.2 yards and scored three TDs. Kareem Wise (6-3, 218) is a big target who was troubled with inconsistency last year, but should be improved in '99 after two years in the program.
Emerging in the spring were sophomore Eric Spencer (6-1, 170) and freshman Travis Garvin (6-1, 182). In three spring scrimmages, Spencer caught 20 passes for 274 yards, while Garvin had 14 receptions for 147 yards. Both boast speed, jumping ability and the elusiveness to turn a short pass into a big gain.
Garvin, a two-sport start out of Bradenton, Fla. (he may also play basketball for the Tigers), signed with Tulane a year ago but never went to the New Orleans school. Instead, he brought his 4.39 speed to Columbia and entered school in January. "We're going to watch him very closely," Smith said. "He's a guy with a lot of talent, a lot of speed."
Redshirt freshman Cam Ankele (6-1, 204) is still waiting to make his splash. A former Florida state high school high jump champion who can make the acrobatic catch, would have played last fall but had his season short-circuited first by a broken collarbone and then a broken foot. He missed most of the spring, too, with a concussion.
Now-departed seniors Jake Stueve and Eddie Brooks shouldered most of the load at tight end the last few years. But the Tigers have a trio of bright prospects - all third year sophomores - who are ready for action. Dwayne Blakley (6-4, 268) started two games last season and caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Ford (6-3, 245) played in every game in '98 and also caught five passes, scored a TD, and is the group's best blocker. Garrett Hill (6-5, 246) was a special teams regular last year.
OFFENSIVE LINE - Four valuable Tiger starters - guards Craig Heimburger and Cliff Smith and tackles Todd Neimeyer and Chris Meredith - played their final games in the Black and Gold last season. But there is talent waiting in the wings to replace them, and they'll have the advantage of building around a likely all-America center in senior Rob Riti (6-3, 289).
Riti was the all-conference center a year ago. One of the strongest players ever at Missouri, he broke the school squat record again last winter - lifting an unbelievable 1,000 pounds. He's quick, mobile and intelligent, too, and most coaches would tell you that if they had only one starter returning on the offensive line, they'd want that player to be the center. Actually Missouri does return a starter at left guard - sophomore Jeff Hellerstedt (6-4, 280). He started five games last season while Smith was injured and played well.
Sophomore Mike Hayes (6-3, 296) claimed the right guard position in the spring, and could also serve as Riti's backup at center. Right behind him at guard is sophomore Adrian Cole.
Mizzou is going to start flipping its tackles in 1999. Sophomore Aaron Crittendon (6-5, 315) started the Insight.com Bowl game and is ticketed as the starting "Quick" tackle. Sophomore Justin Bland (6-6, 321), one of last year's plum recruits, should step in as the "Strong" tackle. Junior Joe Glauberman (6-3, 282) is seen as a swing man who can play anywhere along the line.
With a front seven that may be the best in the Big 12 Conference, Missouri will look to force the action on defense in 1999. "Up front we have more experience and talent combined than at any time since we've been here," Smith says. And the pressure that group should put on opposing offenses should ease the transition in the secondary where the Tigers have to replace three talented starters.
DEFENSIVE LINE - Three starters return led by Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Justin Smith (6-5, 256) and Insight.com Bowl Defensive MVP Jeff Marriott (6-5, 300).
"We made the decision to leave Justin Smith at defensive end and give him a chance to mature," Coach Smith said of his young defensive star. Smith, who made 86 tackles as a rookie while starting every game, will likely move around the formation, though, as his comfort level climbs.
"We're going to move him around to make plays in different situations, and he will not come off of the field unless he's hurt," Smith said. Marriott was a third-team all-Big 12 pick at nose tackle last year. He blocked two field goals last year. The first set up a touchdown against Nebraska and the other resulted in a TD against West Virginia in the Insight.com Bowl game.
Starting at defensive tackle will be senior Steve Erickson (6-4, 280), "who makes a lot of plays because he's so smart," according to the head coach. But senior Terrell Jurineack (6-4, 275) had a great off-season and "we're looking at ways to get both of them on the field at the same time," Smith said.
All-Big 12 defensive guard Justin Wyatt completed his eligibility, but junior Pat Mingucci (6-2, 271) and redshirt freshman Cedric Harden (6-3, 283) should plug that hole nicely. Mingucci is one of the team's strongest players and fiercest competitors.
Youngsters on the rise in the depth include junior DEs Daryl Whittington (6-6, 240) and Barry Mazuch (6-5, 230), sophomore DT Michael Gavins (6-8, 283), and sophomore NTs Chris Ryan (6-3, 284) and Clayton McAboy (6-3, 250).
LINEBACKER - Senior Barry Odom (6-0, 229) returns for his fourth season as a starter and will become one of Missouri's top-10 alltime tacklers this season. Last year he alternated between the weak and strong sides. He'll concentrate on the strong side this season, and will be supported by sophomore Duke Revard (6-3, 235) and redshirt freshman Michael Clay (6-3, 268) who is now 100 percent after rehabilitating a bad knee last fall and having his spring short-circuited by a spider bite.
Returning on the weakside is sophomore Jamonte Robinson (6-2, 202), who had a terrific freshman season. He made 83 tackles to rank third on the team and was an honorable mention Freshman All-American by Football News. He's backed by redshirt freshman Josh O'Neal (6-1, 228), who like Odom is a product of Ada, Okla.
One of the biggest successes of the spring was plugging the hole at outside linebacker (or "bandit" in the Mizzou nomenclature). Juniors Pat Duffy (6-1, 223) and Danny McCamy (6-3, 264) were immediate hits at the position that last year was handled by senior Marquis Gibson.
Duffy moved to bandit last season and dropped some weight in the off-season to improve his mobility on the perimeter. McCamy made big plays in every game last season while splitting time with Justin Smith at defensive end.
SECONDARY - The greenest part of the MU defense will be in the secondary where all-stars like Harold Piersey, Wade Perkins and Caldrinoff Easter are gone, as is DBs coach Jon Hoke, who departed Mizzou to become defensive coordinator at Florida. But several talented youngsters are ready to take their turn and learn the ropes from new coach Brian Stewart.
The lone holdover starter is senior cornerback Carlos Posey (6-0, 197), who was a big-play performer last year. He scored three touchdowns last year - on a fumble return, a pass interception return, and a blocked field goal return. The fastest man on the team, Posey utilized his speed during the off-season to run on Missouri's indoor track team and was a provisional qualifer to the NCAA Championships in the sprint events.
Behind him is junior Andre Roberson (5-10, 164) and transferring to Mizzou will be former TCU starter Larry Hollinquest, who spent last year at Fort Scott Community College.
Redshirt freshman Antoine Duncan (5-10, 181) rose to the top of the heap in the spring battle to fill Perkins' vacated corner spot opposite Posey. Close behind him is another redshirt freshman - John McPherson (5-11, 176). Also is in the mix is junior Andre Roberson (5-10, 164).
There are no worries at free safety where junior Julian Jones (5-11, 188) steps in for Piersey. He was the MVP of the Insight.com Bowl after he made 10 tackles, intercepted a pass, and blocked a punt. He was the Tigers' top reserve at every secondary position last year and was also Mizzou's Special Teams MVP.
At strong safety, sophomore Clarence Jones (6-1, 199) gets the first crack at the position held down by Easter the last three years. Jones lettered on special teams last year and saw some time in the secondary. Second-teamer Harold Hendricks (6-3, 215), a junior, is coming back from a knee injury that scuttled the '98 campaign for him.
Mistakes in the kicking game cost the Tigers three victories last season. Hopefully, added experience will eliminate those problems in 1999.
The four men who handled the lion's share of the of placekicking duties return - sophomores Brian Long, Alexander St. Peter and Brad Hammerich, and senior Tim Geiger. Larry Smith expects Long to handle the PAT/FG duties. Last year, he was 13-15 on extra points and 3-4 on field goals. Hammerich will be the kickoff man.
Mizzou's punters return, too - senior Vince Sebo and sophomore Jared Gilpin. Sebo has worked on changing from a three-step to a two-step punter. He missed the Black-and-Gold Game after having knee surgery to correct a cartilage problem. St. Peter also spent time working as a punter in the spring.
Smith's charge to his punters - work on maximum hang-time, not distance. The return game is solid. Ricardo Rhodes averaged 31.3 yards per kickoff return last season. Arty Johnson and Travis Garvin are the likely punt returners.
Deep snapper Ben Davidson and holder J.R. Romine also return.
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