When Eli Drinkwitz was discussing how he’d wrap up his first recruiting class as Missouri’s head coach, he pointed out that he wasn’t just interested in prospects. He wanted someone who could step in and impact the Mizzou offense from the jump.
“We’ve got to sign a defensive back, a couple of defensive linemen, a couple offensive linemen,” he said. “And we’ve got some wiggle room for grad transfers, whether it’s an immediate-impact player or junior-college player that we think can help us score touchdowns. We need a touchdown maker.”
On Saturday, just as Missouri fans needed their spirits lifted after another disappointing game on the hardwood, Drinkwitz delivered the touchdown maker he had been pining after.
Committed!— Damon Hazelton Jr. (@dahazeltonjr) January 25, 2020
Virginia Tech grad transfer receiver Damon Hazelton Jr. says he has committed to #Mizzou. That's a huge boost for the Tigers. He was an All-ACC player in 2018 and had eight touchdown catches in 2019.— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) January 25, 2020
We often bemoaned Missouri’s seeming lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position in 2019. After promising freshman campaigns, Kam Scott and Jalen Knox hit major sophomore slumps leaving slot receiver Barrett Bannister as the only noticeably improved wideout returning for 2020. And while there’s reason to believe a new staff might be able to glean more out of those promising talents, Hazelton immediately becomes the most proven commodity on the roster.
Just look at these highlights below and feel your heart rate rise.
He’s long. He’s shifty. He’s got good hands. Great awareness. Almost everything you’d want in a touchdown threat. And it’s not as if he’s some random castoff looking for greener pastures. Hazelton is a former All-ACC selection and led Virginia Tech in touchdown receptions in 2019.
Let’s try not to work up too much of a lather here... but this seems like a big deal.
Where he fits:
On top of the depth chart. Duh.
Oh, OK fine, we’ll take a closer look.
From the 2020 roster, Missouri is returning 60 percent of its receiving yards and 62 percent of its receptions, but only 37.5 percent of its receiving touchdowns. Not that 17 TDs was a lot to begin with, but of the seven not scored by Jonathan Nance or Albert Okwuegbunam, five came from Tyler Badie. So if you’re counting the actual wide receivers, Missouri is returning only two receiving touchdowns from the entire 2019 roster.
At 6’2” and 216 pounds, Hazelton immediately becomes the most physically imposing receiver on Missouri’s roster and makes the Tigers’ receiving corps that much deeper. Suddenly Barrett Bannister becomes a true possession guy instead of an every down chunk yardage target. Kam Scott and Jalen Knox both move down a slot, giving them easier matchups. Hazelton doesn’t just add his own talent to the mix, he opens up the field for guys in desperate need of some space to work.
When he’ll play:
This is actually more up in the air than we’d like to think. While Hazelton might qualify as a graduate transfer (i.e. he’d be eligible immediately), he also might fall victim to other transfer rules. Having started his college career at Ball State and later transferred to Virginia Tech, it’s unclear if the NCAA will cause a stink in allowing Hazelton to make a second move. I’m not completely clear on the minutiae, but Hazelton might require an NCAA waiver to be eligible in 2020... and we all know how Missouri gets handled when it comes to matters of the NCAA.
What it all means:
In his look ahead to the year 2020, our very own Nate Edwards set his sights on five wins as a reasonable expectation for Drinkwitz’s first team. He made lots of good points, and I don’t necessarily disagree with him.
At the very least, though, the recruitment of Damon Hazelton Jr. should make you wonder if Drinkwitz is content to coast through his first season on such expectations. The coaching situation at Virginia Tech was murky, and it’s understandable if Hazelton was looking for a place with some more stability. But the Hokies were also an eight-win team in 2019 and look to be pretty set as a division contender in the ACC. You would think a talented receiver like Hazelton wouldn’t be leaving a school like that to come to a rebuilding project.
So while this recruitment could be a simple case of a coach filling one of his biggest stated needs, it also makes you wonder how Drinkwitz is selling his program for the coming season. Sterk hired the young offensive mind to take Missouri football to new heights. Behind talents like Damon Hazelton Jr., it might not be too long before we see results.