No fanbase is as familiar with the disappointment of talent-sapping injuries as Missouri.
That’s mostly true of basketball as of late. The names Michael and Jontay Porter are enough to give even the most casual fan the thousand-yard stare. It’s a special type of misery, to have a player so clearly, generationally talented, play for your team but not realize their full potential until they’re out of your favorite laundry.
The potential for this particular woe lies mainly in college sports, in which you have so few years to watch your favorite players in action before they head off to greener (as in money!) pastures. The risk is doubled over in football, a sport where one wrong can end or forever haggle a career. Henry Josey, Terry Beckner Jr., Emanuel Hall — these are just recent examples, but the list goes on so long, it would be foolish to reach back much further.
Unfortunately, we once against stand upon the precipice of a promising career unnecessarily hampered by the pettiest of injuries.
Albert Okwuegbunam has more potential that anyone on Missouri’s current roster, and it seems to be a consensus. He’s a former Second Team All SEC choice, a current preseason All American and a lock to play on Sundays in the coming years.
That is, if he can stay on the field. After all, Barry Odom once again spent time after practice on Monday explaining why his star tight end wasn’t on the field.
We know the damage Albert O. can do even when his time on the field is limited. In four fewer games than his breakout freshman season, the Springfield, Ill., product logged more catches and total receiving yards, even though his total touchdown count was nearly cut in half. Okwuegbunam is the Tigers’ biggest (in every sense of the word) threat on the field, and could be the key to unlocking a potentially monstrous offense in 2019. Of course, being “on the field” is an important qualifier in that statement.
At this point, it’s pretty easy to say Okwuegbunam has had a memorable career in Columbia. He only needs two touchdowns to surpass Martin Rucker for the number two spot on the all-time TE list (he’ll need a record-tying 14 to surpass Chase Coffman) and, while he won’t have much of a chance to top either in receiving yards, he would still fit comfortably in the discussion of top five Missouri tight ends of all time.
However, how you look at Albert O. all depends on what you think his potential is. You could look at him and say the above discussion is plenty good — after all, most fans would take a tight end worthy of mentioning with Rucker and Coffman every year over, no questions asked.
You could also look at him, though, and see a player who was tabbed as a high-end NFL prospect after only two years of college ball. Say what you will about Coffman and Rucker, neither had memorable careers beyond Missouri. Albert O. seemed poised to top their achievements, jettisoning himself into GOAT status with combined production in Columbia and beyond. You could see Okwuegbunam as more than a first-string tight end; indeed something much, much more impressive. You don’t have to squint to see it either. It’s evident to everyone who watches him.
It may not be fair to expect that level of greatness from a college kid. It’s definitely not fair to expect it from a kid who can’t seem to get any luck in the medical department.
Still, it’s hard not to watch Albert O. play and expect great things to happen. Just how fondly we remember his career, and how we speak of it in the annals of Mizzou history, will depend on how well — or maybe how often? — the star acquits himself in 2019.