Cornerback enjoys return to field as Missouri football practices start

Friday, August 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:36 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 7, 2009
Missouri cornerback Munir Prince, second from right, watches as teammates perform drills during the first practice of the fall season Thursday at the MU training fields.

COLUMBIA — Everybody involved in college football is eager for the first day of fall camp. Junior cornerback Munir Prince, who becomes eligible this season, was especially excited about Missouri's first fall practice Thursday. Prince had to sit out last year after transferring from Notre Dame.

"This year it's a lot more focused for me," he said. "I've been anticipating it for a year ... getting on the field, getting a feel for the game again. Knowing I can play in that first game, (there is) more motivation for me to come out. Feels good, man, feels good actually playing for a reason."

Cornell Ford, an assistant who coaches the cornerbacks, said Prince is talented but, like others at the position, needs to improve his technique.

"Munir, he's a smart kid. Very, very fast. Very quick, very athletic," Ford said. "We've just got to hone his skills, his overall skills, and he's going to be fine."

Ford said he emphasized effort.

"Today, day one, (they) have a tendency not to run to the ball. We were on top of everybody trying to get them to run to the football. Having pride of what you do on the field, that no coach questions your effort on the field — that's what we're trying to get done today," Ford said.  "I just want playmakers at that position. That's a position where guys have to produce, be fundamentally sound, and make plays for our defense. If we can get that out of our corners, we're going to be very successful."

Coach Gary Pinkel said making big plays is being emphasized to all units of the team. Coaches all wore shirts that read "TURNOVER MARGIN" on the back and "LEAD THE NATION" on the front. Missouri's turnover margin last year was -4.

"We came up with that as a staff," Pinkel said. "You wonder why you were 10-4 (last year) and 12-2 (previously). I think we were 88th in the nation or something in turnover margin, so that's not very good. So it's an emphasis. We always try to get different angles to get the message out in different ways. There's more T-shirts to come."

"It's all fundamentals," Pinkel added. "(A good turnover margin) is because you did the right things on offense, the right things on defense. It's also an attitude. That's the responsibility that both sides have."

Prince is listed second on the depth chart behind junior Carl Gettis. If Prince remains there, however, he might still see game action as a punt returner. He joined several other players in returning punts to open Thursday's practice. Prince said he returned kickoffs in high school but not punts.

"Actually I started working on it in the spring. I kind of had a knack for it," Prince said. "I've been practicing for a couple weeks. It's working out pretty good for me. I'm starting to get the hang of it. Hopefully I can make an impact on special teams."

Prince, who played at DeSmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, said he got comfortable at Missouri quickly after transferring and that playing at Missouri is "like a little high school reunion."

"Number one, I just wanted to be closer to home, closer to my family. I kind of got homesick being out there," Prince said. "I will say this, Notre Dame was a great experience. Coach Weis is a great coach. He has a good thing going there. Here, I like the family orientation that Coach Pinkel is focusing on."

Coach Pinkel said his players' work ethic and enthusiasm were strong.

"A good first day," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do obviously. The whole key is to get as many players ready to play as you can."

Zaviar Gooden to wear No. 25.: Last year, the Tigers chose a player each week to wear No. 25 in honor of Aaron O'Neal, a linebacker who died in 2005. This year, however, Zaviar Gooden, a freshman linebacker, was given No. 25 to wear for his collegiate career.

"That's a touching story there. We wanted to honor his number with a really good football player for as long as he wears it. I think ... (Gooden) will wear it the rest of his career here. And then we'll choose again," Pinkel said. "We choose a linebacker, and we try to choose one obviously we think is potentially going to be a high-level player. Interestingly enough, they are very similar-type people. Very, very quality people. I know Zaviar with great pride is wearing that jersey. That's a tradition that'll be carried on historically here at the University of Missouri."

Captains announced: The players voted on captains Thursday morning. They selected wide receiver Danario Alexander, nose tackle Jaron Baston, offensive lineman Kurtis Gregory and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. All four are seniors.

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Ken Belk August 7, 2009 | 6:25 p.m.

I don't mean to be picky, but I disagree with the decision on the number 25. I thought AO's number would be forever retired after they honored it last year in celebration of his senior year.

To give the number to a "random" player is unfair to the player himself, the rest of the team, and Aaron O'Neil and his family. I don't know much about Gooden so I can't really comment on him as a person and/or a player, but it doesn't seem right to put those expectations on him.

They should have just left the number retired and never let anyone wear 25 again. Leave the number with AO25 where it is at Faurot. Maybe even honor him every year at senior day. But don't put this weight on a kid coming into Mizzou. The honor is great for whoever gets to wear 25, but the expectation are unattainable. Even the best player cannot live up to what Aaron means to this University.

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