Missouri coach Barry Odom was in a chipper mood to begin his Wednesday press conference, describing it as a “warm and balmy” day in mid-Missouri.
It was freezing outside.
Odom had plenty of reasons to be happy, though, because his team had new members to welcome.
National Signing Day is typically an exciting occasion for football coaches, players, and fans at universities across the country. It’s also had the potential of being a deflating and disappointing experience, depending on who your school lands.
This time around, however, there wasn’t the same feel. “It’s kind of anti-climatic,” Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “It’s a little unchartered territory with the early signing period, but it worked out well for us. I’m very pleased with this class.”
Most of Mizzou’s 2018 recruiting class had already been announced in late-December during the early signing period, taking away most of the suspense and anticipation. However, not every recruit made his decision early, and the Tigers announced the addition of six more, bringing the total number of signees to 25.
Missouri signed nine players from the state of Texas and five from Missouri. Odom and staff brought in two each from Florida and Georgia, as well. “You look at one county in the city of Houston, there’ll be about 100 signees,” said Odom when asked about Texas. “We understand the value of having the opportunity to recruit down there.”
Some may be disappointed with the relatively low number of Missouri signees in a loaded class, but Odom was happy with what his staff came away with and said the interest has to go both ways. “I want guys that want to be at the University of Missouri too,” he said. “I feel very strongly about our program, the foundation that we’re on, and the direction that we’re going.”
It’s different now
“This was always a day when everybody woke up early and you put on your nice stuff, and you literally went for four hours,” Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “You’re calling, you’re talking, you’re congratulating, and then every now and then you’re devastated.”
For Dooley, all of that was now gone. “It’s kind of uneventful,” he said. “We weren’t just recruiting for this day, this is almost like the early spring evaluation period. Everybody out there in the country was looking at the next year’s class.”
After talking to players and coaches around the country, Walters realized that the presence of an early signing period comes with risks for the athletes. “A lot of teams filled needs during the early signing period,” he said. “So where you had guys with a bunch of offers who decided not to sign or commit that early signing period, now they’re searching for homes because those spots filled up.”
Walters enjoyed being able to sign desired recruits early though, and said he learned from the experience. “I definitely see the benefit moving forward,” he said.
“It still comes down to relationships,” Odom said. “That hasn’t changed, but the urgency of being able to get on a kid or develop that relationship early on, that’s gonna be huge moving forward.”
Versatility is a virtue
Nick Bolton, a 6’0, 227-pound middle linebacker, was the only member of the February signees that hailed from Texas. He racked up 130 tackles in his senior year and came up with five interceptions, highlighting his nose for the ball.
Walters praised the versatility of the linebackers and defensive backs in this class specifically, and said that he planned on moving players around to different positions. “The goal is to get the best 11 out there on a consistent basis.”
The Tigers also added Jatorian Hansford, who played both linebacker and strong safety at Mary Persons high school last year. He will transition to defensive end for the Tigers, and has the necessary size at 6’4, 222 pounds. He compiled 107 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks as a senior.
“Three of the four (signees) we feel like can play multiple positions,” Odom said. “We get into the chance to be able to cross-train and use those guys in certain situations that help the depth of the team right now immediately.”
“This is a big boy league”
Mizzou continued to emphasize adding size in the trenches with the addition of two gigantic offensive linemen. Xavier Delgado and Bobby Lawrence are both 6’5 or taller and weigh 300 pounds or more.
“I think we hit a home run that way,” said Missouri offensive line coach Brad Davis when asked about the added size. “Obviously we’ll know in the future if I’m right or wrong.”
Davis was hired just five days before the early signing period began and had to hit the road to start recruiting immediately. “The biggest piece of it is I wanted good kids,” he said. “It’s a ‘Can I coach this kid?’ feeling. It’s a ‘Will he work for me?’ feeling. ‘Will he be accountable? Can I trust this kid around my family? Can I trust him when I’m away, to do the right things and to put the team first?’ In that regard, that was at the forefront of everything we do.”
While athletic ability is obviously important, Davis seems to put more of an emphasis on the qualities displayed off the field. “Integrity, toughness, they believe in academics obviously, and then just buy into the team aspect of the game,” he said.
“They want to compete for a SEC championship, they want to put Missouri on their back. Those are the prerequisites a kid has to be able to display for us to really get them in the boat here.”
“This is a big boy league,” Missouri defensive line coach Brick Haley said. “You gotta have big boys up front, in both areas. I think we’ve accomplished some of that with the guys that we’re bringing in and that we got this signing class. So I’m excited about those guys.”
New offensive weapons
Tyler Badie is a speed back who’ll make you immediately make you think of Ish Witter with his 5’9, 170-pound build. The three-star running back rushed for 1,186 yards and 18 touchdowns on 193 carries in his final campaign at Briarcrest high school.
“We’ll see,” said Dooley when asked what Badie brings to the table. “Until you get these guys here and you work with them, and develop them, and see how they respond to adversity, you never know what they’re gonna be.”
The biggest name of the second signing period was quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., who’s coming off of leading East Mississippi Community College to the 2017 junior college national championship. He accounted for 4,210 total yards of offense and 35 touchdowns and is expected to compete for the backup job behind Drew Lock.
“I think he’s a tremendous talent,” Odom said. “He’s got great leadership skills. Very productive. A mature competitor. Very driven on what he wants to go accomplish.”
Recruiting Scott Jr. was different, as he’d already been through the recruiting cycle. “He wasn’t interested in a fresh coat of paint,” Odom said. “He’s into substance and going to work, and he’s going to make our program better.”
Missouri has a few scholarships remaining and will likely look to make a few more additions, potentially in the transfer market, in the near future.