As Pete Scantlebury settles in, I’m getting ready to head out the RMN door. So consider this a valedictory series of sorts. I’ve been in Columbia for just over 20 years and just over 20 football seasons. Time to list some of my favorite things from that time. So far we’ve looked at quarterbacks and Faurot Field crowds. Now let’s explore Tight End U.
I almost wanted to try to make a fullbacks list, too, just so I could wax poetic about Rhino Ron Janes and Joe Chirumbolo. Hey, maybe I still will. But let’s stick with the pass catchers for now.
There’s a special spot on the list for the guys with That One Big Catch.
- J.D. McCoy nearly destroyed his knee catching an awkwardly-thrown ball from Brad Smith on fourth down to save a Mizzou comeback against Middle Tennessee in 2003. If he doesn’t make that catch that season maybe never gets off the ground.
- Victor Sesay caught the fake field goal attempt from Sonny Riccio against Nebraska, just three weeks later.
- And of course, Eric Waters caught the play-action rollout to ice the Texas A&M, and SEC East, win in 2013.
Five tight ends stand out from a “they caught a lot more than That One Pass” perspective, though.
5. Dwayne Blakley (1998-2001)
Good enough to stick in the pros for a bit (he caught 21 passes for the Atlanta Falcons over four seasons), Blakley deserved better. He caught a huge touchdown pass late in the eventually gut-wrenching loss to Texas A&M in 1998 (one of only five catches he made as a redshirt freshman), then watched as the offense fell apart around him following Corby Jones’ and Devin West’s respective departures.
He caught 22 passes for a disastrous 1999 offense, then caught 18 during Larry Smith’s ill-fated desperation move to the spread. Then, in 2001, he served as a capable, interesting No. 2 option to Justin Gage as Gary Pinkel attempted to find his footing. If his career begins a couple of years earlier, he potentially plays a key role on that 1997 team. If it begins a couple of years later, he has the chance to make a big impact on the first couple of Brad Smith offenses. But No. 85 looked the part and had a few memorable moments.
4. Michael Egnew (2008-11)
Camp out in a hole in the zone, and wait for a Blaine Gabbert fastball to come your way. That worked pretty well for the Plainview, Tex., native who went from catching seven passes in his first two seasons to 90 in his third.
He first had to wait behind Mackey Award winner Chase Coffman, then watched as Danario Alexander served as a de facto tight end in a lot of situations in 2009. But in 2010, as Mizzou reinvented its offense around Gabbert, T.J. Moe, an impressive run game, and a really impressive defense, Egnew’s possession powers came in handy. He had 13 catches for 145 yards in the eventual miracle win over San Diego State, and he had 10 more in the “DAMN!” inducing 30-9 win at Texas A&M. Perhaps most impressively, he managed seven catches ... for eight yards in the win over Oklahoma. How does a tight end even do that??
Egnew caught 140 passes over his final two seasons. He didn’t exactly go up the seam for a big gain all that often (though he did have six catches for 105 yards against Iowa State as a senior), but he played a serious, important efficiency role.
3. Albert Okwuegbunam (2017-?)
Subject to change, obviously, but what a first impression. Mizzou fans headed into 2017 wondering what production they could expect from tight ends Jason Reese and Kendall Blanton; those two managed only 11 combined catches, though they produced 302 yards and four scores in the process.
Instead, a redshirt freshman stole the show. Eventually. Okwuegbunam caught just seven balls for 102 yards and two scores during Mizzou’s 1-5 start but provided two major bursts the rest of the season. He caught a combined eight passes for 91 yards, with an incredible five touchdowns, in wins over Idaho and UConn, and after a couple of quiet games he caught 10 for 179 and four more scores in the road wins over Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Almost overnight, he became just about the best red zone weapon in the country.
Listed at 6’5, 260 pounds, Albert O almost looks even bigger; he looks the part of an old-school, Blakley-style tight end but was a massive difference-maker in Josh Heupel’s new-school spread. We’ll see what he does for an encore.
2. Martin Rucker (2004-07)
The top two are obvious, and picking between them is like choosing your favorite child. Rucker was a difference-maker even before his first game; the St. Joseph product was a key signee in Gary Pinkel’s 2003 class, choosing the home-state school over his brother Mike’s alma mater, Nebraska.
The elder Rucker, the Wistroms (Grant and Tracey), etc., were key pieces when it came to propping NU up with elite talent and keeping it away from Mizzou, but Pinkel managed to start keeping guys of that caliber in-state. He kept guys like Tony Temple and Chase Coffman away from Kansas State, too, and Mizzou was soon playing at a higher level than either program.
Rucker was a leader on the field, too, though. Obviously. He caught 19 passes as a redshirt freshman in 2004, then caught 47 in Mizzou’s new-fangled 2005 spread. He was a “We are NOT losing this game” vocal leader on the sidelines of Mizzou’s stirring Independence Bowl comeback, and when Mizzou’s offense erupted with Chase Daniel behind center, he did, too: he caught 53 passes with five touchdowns in 2006, then caught 84 with eight scores in 2007. He even got involved in the ground game, carrying 14 times as a senior (mostly early in the year). That 2007 team had many face-of-the-program types, but Rucker was absolutely one of them.
1. Chase Coffman (2005-08)
Six former Tigers caught at least 180 passes in their careers, and the list is a who’s-who of Mizzou heavyweights: Jeremy Maclin (182), Moe (188), Alexander (191), Gage (200), Rucker (203). Granted, Maclin did his damage in two years and would have only needed one more to park the record pretty far out there. Plus, the new redshirt rules that are getting implemented this fall (where you can play four games and hold onto your RS) would have saved Justin Gage from Larry Smith’s disastrous, desperate late-1999 redshirt pull and would have given him another season to load up on receptions.
Still, Coffman is in first place on this list by 44 catches. He did more damage, for a longer period of time, than any Mizzou pass target ever. And he did it with flair.
Dude was hurdling defenders before hurdling defenders was cool. I’m not sure any Mizzou player has ever made me whoop out loud more than No. 45.
Bonus points for being maybe the first official Rock M Nation meme, too.