COLUMBIA — Kurtis Gregory didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into.
While checking his Facebook last spring, Gregory, a senior offensive guard on the Missouri football team, saw that someone had sent him a message. It was from Jack Meiners, a freshman offensive tackle. Meiners was wondering if he could possibly live with Gregory over the summer rather than spend the extra couple months in the dorm. Sure, Gregory thought. Shouldn’t be a problem, as long as he chips in with the rent.
What Gregory didn’t know is that Meiners wasn’t going to be the kind of roommate that kept to himself. This freshman kept asking questions. He kept asking a lot of questions. When Gregory watched "Home Improvement" on television, there were questions. While he played the Tiger Woods videogame with roommates, there were more questions.
“I obviously wanted to come in and get a good mental grasp on the plays,” Meiners said. “I would come in and watch film on my own and write down a sheet of questions and bring them back with me.”
And how long were each of these lessons?
“I’d just go until I ran out of questions.”
All of Meiners’ inquiries are starting to pay off. Spending the entire summer picking Gregory’s brain about plays, formations and tendencies has given Meiners a mental edge that, when added to his college-ready size and strength, has positioned him to be the second true freshman lineman to earn playing time during head coach Gary Pinkel’s tenure.
Gregory laughs when asked about the constant quizzing. It was easy to see early on that Meiners had an interest in bettering his understanding of the offense before the season began, and Gregory had no problems obliging.
“We would go up to the complex every once in a while and just watch film,” Meiners said. “We would go over the different formations and the different plays that we run. I felt like I came into this camp a lot better mentally, knowing some of the plays already, than some of the other freshmen offensive linemen.”
“He just kept asking me things like, ‘When are you doing this? When are you doing that?” Gregory said with a laugh. “That’s when I started Tivo-ing games that were on TV and watching them with him.”
Both Gregory and co-offensive line coach Josh Henson know that Meiners’ desire to learn has helped him arrive at this point, but when asked what sets him apart both are quick to mention his physical tools.
Gregory immediately points to size. While many of the linemen that arrive on the MU campus as true freshmen weigh around 280 pounds, Meiners got to Columbia standing taller than 6 feet, 5 inches and weighing more than 300 pounds.
Henson cites Meiners’ strength. He says that despite being a freshman Meiners is near the top of his position group in weight testing. But along with strength Henson says that Meiners possesses the exact type of functional athleticism necessary to succeed along the offensive line.
“Everybody recognizes the first type of great athlete, and that’s the guy that’s 6-4, 220 pounds, runs a 4.5 40 and jumps through the roof,” Henson said. “The other kind of great athlete is the guy that if you tell him to do something with his body, he can make his body do it. And that’s especially true for an offensive lineman, because all our skills are learned.
“You tell him, ‘Hey Jack, you need to do this with your foot,’ or ‘You need to do this with your hands,’ and he does it. He gets it.”
Growing up watching Missouri football with his uncle, Meiners was never completely dedicated to playing for the program until a trip to Columbia two seasons ago.
“The 2007 Nebraska game, the Gold Rush, just watching the game, looking at the pictures and how crazy it was coming out with the smoke and everything, it made me realize how hard I would have to work to play for this program,” Meiners said.
And even after doing the work, both in the film room and in the weight room, Meiners still never thought his opportunity would come so soon.
“The decision is up to coach Henson and (co-offensive line) coach (Bruce) Walker, and if they think I can handle it,” Meiners said. “But if I get an opportunity (to play), it would be quite the experience.”
- Strong safety Hardy Ricks was wearing a red practice vest Friday because of hamstring tightness. He participated in some drills, sitting out some of the most physical. Pinkel said he does not expect Ricks’ injury to be a long-term issue.
- Sophomore running back Gilbert Moye broke from the right side of the field to the left and got into the open field, breaking what could have been a long run if it weren’t in a drill that was blown dead. Moye is in his first season as a running back after playing safety.
- Cornerback Kip Edwards and safety Del Howard worked together on an interception. Edwards jumped into the air and tipped the ball away just before a receiver was about to catch it. Howard was able to catch the ball and keep his foot from going out of bounds.
- Sophomore wide receiver Jerrell Jackson changed the timing of his jump and caught a pass that was tipped by defensive end Aldon Smith, gaining enough yards to give the offense a first down.
- Senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon gave the defense a short pep talk after the unit had lost some drills to the offense in the morning practice. He later delivered a vicious hit to wide receiver Danario Alexander, causing an incompletion. The defense came back to win the practice, allowing it to wear black jerseys for the afternoon session.
- Freshman wide receiver T.J. Moe, who had been dealing with a lisfranc fracture, was no longer wearing a red practice vest over his jersey. Other players were allowed to hit him in full contact drills and scrimmages. Safety Charlie Brockway delivered a hard hit as Moe tried to catch a pass. Moe held on to the ball to make the catch.
— Sam Wilson contributed to this report