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, Faurot Field crowds, tight ends, road performances, and linebackers. Now let’s talk about the ball-carriers.
5. Marcus Murphy (2010-14)
Murphy was never the guy in the Mizzou backfield, but he gets bonus points for his return prowess. And his timeliness.
After rushing for 181 yards as a true freshman and then redshirting with injury in 2011, Murphy proved a reasonably useful cog in the 2012 Tiger backfield, but he and Russell Hansbrough (who had a case for making this list, too) mostly backed up Kendial Lawrence (ditto). But while he was waiting his turn, he earned All-American status as a return man, taking four kicks for scores, including what was basically a game-winning punt return at UCF.
Over the next two seasons, he would rush for a perfectly respectable 1,525 yards and 13 scores while splitting time with Hansbrough and Henry Josey, but he was a right-place, right-time back. He scored twice to give Mizzou a 17-0 lead against South Carolina in 2013, then came oh, so damn close to scoring again in overtime before [redacted] and the Tigers lost. He scored a TD in the SEC title game that year as well.
2014 was his year, though. He had 98 yards and a score in the comeback win over South Carolina, and he had the most uniquely awesome game you’ll ever see two weeks later, scoring via rush, kick return, and punt return against Florida. He had 157 yards in the bowl win over Minnesota, too, but he will be primarily remembered for the Arkansas game, scoring the game-winner in the division-clinching win. That’s not a bad legacy.
Speaking of picking your moments well...
4. Tony Temple (2004-07)
If Tony Temple could have ever bottled up his post-Halloween essence and uncorked it for an entire year, he’d have been a damn Heisman contender.
Once one of the most sought-after recruits in the country, the fact that he donned the black and gold at all was a symbolic win. He chose Mizzou over Kansas State and basically everyone else late in the 2004 recruiting cycle (right after K-State had made its Big 12 title run, no less), and he finished his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but in between were some twists and turns.
Desperate for an offensive spark, Gary Pinkel tore his redshirt off midway through 2004, giving him six carries at Nebraska. He then proceeded to get hurt, finishing his freshman season with 13 yards. In 2005, he split time with Marcus Woods before finally assuming his post as Mizzou’s true No. 1 back in 2006. And then losing that status because of fumbles and injuries. And then getting it back. Et cetera. But he finished each season on a high note, and by the end of his career, he had rushed 253 times for 1,278 yards (5.1 per carry) before November 1 and 213 times for 1,274 yards (6.0) after. He posted 194 yards in a wild Sun Bowl loss to Oregon State in 2006, then, of course, rushed 24 times for 281 yards and four scores to set a Cotton Bowl record a year later.
Two straight backs with career-defining games against Arkansas.
3. Zack Abron (2000-03)
You could not have drawn up a better Brad Smith complement than this burly battalion mate. Like Temple, fumble issues kept Abron off the field for a bit early in his career, but after a hit-and-miss, 502-yard debut as a redshirt freshman in 2000, Larry Smith’s final year, he quickly became one of Pinkel’s steadiest contributors. He rushed for 783 yards and two scores in 2001 while sharing a backfield with Kirk Farmer and Darius Outlaw, and in two years next to Smith, he compiled 1,913 yards and 29 scores. Smith himself would finish his career with 45 touchdowns; just think of how many he might have had if Abron hadn’t had such a nose for the end zone.
Abron was a steady contributor who briefly ranked first all-time in career rushing yards at Mizzou. (Smith would go zooming by him soon enough.) But that was only part of the reason to like him. He was also fun as hell to watch. He probably ran the 40 in about 4.9 seconds, and you weren’t going to see him juke anybody. But the 5’10, 225-pounder ran like a 255-pounder. He had incredible body control and bounced off of tacklers as well as any Tiger ever. One guy could almost never bring him down. His highlight film is minimal (he was pre-YouTube) but underrated.
Man, he was fun.
With Smith running in space and Abron softening opponents up between the tackles, Missouri rode that run game to its first bowl in five years.
2. Devin West (1995-98)
He just barely qualifies as a favorite “of the last 20 years,” I guess, but whatever.
For three seasons, the back from Moberly was a prospect with potential. He was a strong kick returner and an exciting backup for Brock Olivo, but he was like a colt whose legs were too powerful for the rest of his body. He would explode into the open field and then trip himself.
Still, you could see just how much potential he had, and as a senior, as the only returning member of what had been a ridiculous 1997 corps of running backs (Olivo, West, and fullbacks Ernest Blackwell and Ron Janes), he got the stage to himself and proved all expectations right. He rushed for 1,621 yards as the main cog in the option duo with QB Corby Jones and became Missouri’s first All-American back since Bob Steuber in 1942.
He also did nasty, nasty things to Kansas.
32 carries, 319 yards. Only the end zone could stop him from running. There are few things more satisfying than a player who fulfills every bit of potential you thought he had. West did just that.
1. Henry Josey (2010-13)
[twinkle in eye]
[outright tear in corner of eye]
[man, there must be a lot of pollen in the air or something, I don’t know what’s happening to me right now]
I don’t know what to say about Henry Josey that I haven’t said before. His entire career played out within Rock M Nation’s existence, from the hot 2010 debut, to the 2011 eruption, to the catastrophic injury, to the 2013 comeback. His is one of Missouri’s greatest story arcs.
I’m gonna need a minute to compose myself.