COLUMBIA — Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp were children again.
While playing catch in the weeks leading up to Missouri's opener against Illinois the sophomores were back in the familiar roles of their youth, envisioning themselves snagging touchdown passes in front of thousands of screaming fans.
No. 25 Missouri vs. Bowling Green
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Faurot Field
TV: FSN Pay-Per-View
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
But the visions are different now. They aren't pretending to be the players that inhabit their televisions each Sunday. They are the stars of their moments of glory. This wasn't impersonation. It was preparation.
"We always (talk about it) when we're outside playing catch," Jackson said. "Man, when I score my first touchdown I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that."
By the time last Saturday's 37-9 victory had ended, the need to wonder was gone. Jackson and Kemp both found the end zone for the first time, and in doing so both realized that it didn't matter how much they had prepared. Nothing makes you ready for your first collegiate touchdown.
Wes Kemp recounts the moment.
He got the signal. He recognized the coverage. The ball was snapped. He sprinted past the corner. He saw the safety in the middle of the field. He pulled the ball in. He stumbled. The safety gained ground. He "turned on the burners", saw nothing but turf between himself and the goal line, and high-stepped into the end zone.
A graduate of De Smet High School in St. Louis, Kemp had plenty of friends and family in attendance. And if the play itself wasn't enough to make the moment, where it happened certainly was.
"It was just a great feeling to be at home and to catch a pass like that," Kemp said. "It was unbelievable."
Kemp and Jackson had conversations about it. Who was going to be the first member of their class to get into the end zone? They had their answer, but with the ball on the Illini 4-yard line Kemp knew as soon as the signal came in that Jackson wouldn't be too far behind.
Danario Alexander had run a similar route on a similar play earlier in the game. Moving across the middle of the field Gabbert found Alexander for a big gain. Kemp knew that Jackson would be next.
"As soon as we hiked the ball I saw everything open up like the Red Sea," Jackson said. "Me and this defender was one on one."
Jackson came open in the back of the end zone and Gabbert found him for the easy score. But despite his dress rehearsals on the practice field with Kemp, everything moves a bit faster under the noise of 64,000 people.
"I didn't (have time)!" Jackson said regarding his lack of celebration. "When I caught the ball I was like, 'Did I just score this touchdown?' I didn't know how to react."
Jackson found the end zone plenty of times in high school. He scored 39 times his three varsity seasons. But ask Jackson, and there's no way to compare the two.
"In high school we didn't have that many fans at no game," Jackson said. "Just hearin' that crowd gettin' so loud, and knowing it was you that made that play, just feels so good."
Good enough to be the best moment of his athletic career?
"Yes, athletic career, definitely."
Anything else that can even come close?
"Nah," Jackson said. "That first touchdown was real, real big for me. It probably didn't look so exciting, but to me it was a big thing. It's hard to compare something to that feeling."