COLUMBIA – Gahn (pronounced "John") McGaffie showed plenty of versatility as a high school football player, but avoiding injuries might be the first step toward his improvement at the college level.
McGaffie, a sophomore from Galena Park, Texas, who spent time as both a receiver and quarterback in high school, has already had his progress at the wideout position slowed while at Missouri.
Most recently, he hurt his ankle earlier this year, leaving him out of the spring game, the annual scrimmage which closes spring practices. Fortunately, McGaffie is fully healthy now, and can focus on trying to stand out among the other Tiger wideouts.
"Practice has been pretty good. I'm just coming out here trying to work hard and earn a spot," he said. "I mean last year I got hurt a few times at the end. So I'm just trying to stay healthy and finish off spring healthy."
Missouri's coaching staff decided to redshirt him for last season, a common practice used with freshmen. McGaffie worked on the scout team during 2008, helping simulate formations and plays an opposing offense might use, which better prepares the defense for the upcoming game. He said he learned a lot in 2008.
"When I redshirted, it kind of made me better because I was going against the No. 1 defense that we have here," he said. "So that kind of made me better because I was going against the ones and not, you know, just some other scout team."
Wide receivers coach Andy Hill said the scout team is also a good preparation for its own athletes.
"He was hurt a lot the first part of last year, but you get on scout team, you get banged around a little bit," he said. "So you learn some toughness down there."
McGaffie said he has been much more comfortable at the 2009 practices.
"I feel better coming out this season because I know the offense better," he said. "Last time I was here, I was out here running the wrong routes. I feel better with the offense now that I know it."
McGaffie has a steep climb toward significant playing time. Despite the departure of Jeremy Maclin, the Tigers retain the more experienced Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, who are currently slated to start alongside Wes Kemp.
Following Wednesday's practice, Hill said the next day's scrimmage would be a good chance to assess how all of the receivers were doing. Hill said coaches emphasize two primary skills to the less experienced wide receivers like McGaffie.
"Just focusing really on knowing what you're doing and playing as fast as you can play. That's the two things that as a young guy you can improve on the most," he said. "He's showing some signs he's getting better."