Following a six-year career in the NFL, A.J. Ofodile returned to Columbia in the early 2000s to rehab a knee injury and finish earning his bachelor’s degree. Barry Odom just so happened to be entering his first year as head coach at Columbia Rock Bridge High School in 2001 and knew that his fellow Mizzou alumnus wanted to get into coaching.
Ofodile jumped at the opportunity, becoming Odom’s assistant coach in the first year and his offensive coordinator in the second. The two actually ended up living together. “We’d work all day and then we’d get back to the house, and he still wanted to talk ball,” Odom said. “I was ready for a break. It never stopped.”
Odom left to join the Missouri football staff in 2003, but Ofodile remained at Rock Bridge where he was the head coach from 2003-15. When Odom took over as Mizzou head coach in 2016 and had the chance to choose his staff, he knew that Ofodile would be interested once again and hired him as director of recruiting operations.
“I knew his interest in recruiting and the connections that he had within the department across the country,” Odom said. “I knew it would be a great benefit for us. He cares about the kids and he wants to do it the right way.”
In January, Ofodile was promoted to wide receivers coach. His methods haven’t changed since the Rock Bridge days. “At the end of the day, coaching is coaching,” he said. “You’re always gonna give your best effort no matter where you are or what level, but the standard here is high.”
Every day presents him with a challenge to improve, but Ofodile is up for it. “I take that seriously and I’ve been that way my whole career — player, coach, whatever — anyway,” he said. “I analyze myself all the time. ‘What do I feel like I’m doing good,’ and we’ll build on that. And ‘What do I feel like I need to get better at,’ and then we’ll take steps to correct that. It’s the same process.”
Ofodile and Odom have taken similar journeys, starting as players, becoming coaches at Rock Bridge, and ending up coaching together again at Mizzou. They aren’t living together on Bourne Street anymore, but they remain close as they collaborate to engineer the Tigers’ offensive attack.
Emanuel Hall had a breakout season in 2017, catching 33 passes for 817 yards and eight touchdowns. With J’Mon Moore gone, he should be Drew Lock’s clear No. 1 option despite the introduction of Derek Dooley’s system.
“Obviously the physical tools are off the charts,” Ofodile said on Thursday. “I mean, you’ve got a guy (who’s) probably as fast a player as there is in the country, especially when the ball’s in the air.”
Hall will have to expand his game, however, in order to remain effective. Much of his success last year came on go-routes, and he struggled a bit with drops. His short and intermediate route running must be better for his production and consistency to improve.
“I’m a big believer that in terms of athletic skills that you develop — route running being one, a very specific skill — there’s a lot of different ways to get a particular route ran,” Ofodile said. “A lot of times the most effective way is gonna have to be matched up with what your athletic traits are, and so you wouldn’t teach [slot receiver] Johnathon Johnson to run a route the same way you would teach Emanuel Hall to run a route.”
Ofodile looked to the hardwood in order to elaborate on his comparison, comparing Johnson to Chris Paul and Hall to Russell Westbrook. Like Paul, Johnson has to rely more on using his craftiness and skill to fake out defenders. Hall, on the other hand, can just blow by them.
“One of the things is, not just helping E figure out what his style should be, but then embracing that,” Ofodile said. “Sometimes we’re too cookie cutter, everything needs to look the same, everybody needs to do it the same. I’m just a big believer it needs to be matched up with what your strengths are, and then you just use that to its fullest.”
Ofodile believes Hall has embraced that and will become a more proficient route runner and reliable pass-catcher. He isn’t too worried about the drops, noting that he’s emphasized the importance of his receivers keeping their eyes on the ball and establishing good hand placement.
The senior wideout showed some the potential to live up to his coach’s expectations in Wednesday’s practice. Hall ran a fade route toward the left corner of the end zone, getting a step on the defender and catching Lock’s eye.
The pass floated in the air a bit, though, allowing the corner to close the distance. Hall still came up with it, securing the ball before getting a foot down inbounds. The referees running practice lifted their arms in the air — touchdown.
Through the introduction of new concepts, the Tigers’ receiving corps has already been challenged in spring camp.
Their route manual now contains 117 different routes — a huge upgrade over last year.
“We’ll end up having an offensive package that’s gonna be really good, really comprehensive, really exciting,” Ofodile said. “It’s a work in progress, but I think everything’s going in the right direction.”
He named Richaud Floyd, walk-on Barrett Banister, and JUCO transfer Harry Ballard III as receivers who’d impressed him so far with the ability they’ve shown to expand their games. None, however, have stood out more than Nate Brown.
Brown has been riddled with injuries in recent years but does have game experience and led the team in touchdown receptions in 2015 with four. Ofodile commended him for his leadership and commitment to his craft. It’s rendered results so far.
“He’s blocked well, he’s caught well, he’s proven to be able to be a deep threat,” Ofodile said. “He’s kind of known as more of a possession guy, but he’s made big plays down the field as well. I’m really proud of how he’s approached things.”
Terry Beckner Jr. tweaks his ankle
Terry Beckner Jr. made a lot of Mizzou fans happy when he decided to return for his senior campaign. It was a bold move considering the fact that he’s torn his ACL twice and had significant draft buss following a strong junior season.
He suited up for practice on Thursday but wore a red shirt and didn’t participate in drills. A team spokesman said that Beckner Jr. rolled his ankle in a practice before spring break and felt discomfort during practice on Tuesday.
The injury doesn’t seem to be significant. “If it was Thursday of game week, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over him being able to play,” Odom said.