COLUMBIA — Beau Brinkley is finally tired.
After two hours of running and catching in the final traces of summer heat, he walks off the field, helmet in hand, his hair still damp from the remnants of another practice.
But it's the good kind of tired, the kind of tired that accompanies satisfaction, the kind of tired that Brinkley missed a year ago.
Brinkley spent the majority of each practice last season as an observer. As the team's long snapper Brinkley didn't participate in position drills and usually saw his practices end by the time special teams drills were finished.
After some encouragement from high school friend and former Missouri wide receiver Tommy Saunders, Brinkley approached coach Gary Pinkel last spring about getting some time at tight end.
It was both Saunders and long snapping that brought Brinkley to Missouri.
"Tommy told me they were in need of a long snapper," Brinkley said. "So I thought, 'What the hell? I'll try it out.'"
Brinkley came to Missouri as a preferred walk-on, and lived with Saunders before the team's summer's workouts. Saunders said he had envisioned Brinkley just using long snapping as a way to make it into two-a-day practices before his skills as a tight end became apparent to the coaching staff.
There was just one problem. Brinkley was too good at long snapping.
"His best snaps are good enough to play in the NFL," Saunders said. "With my short time with Detroit, I've seen that his good balls are good enough to play at that level."
Brinkley's father was a college long snapper, who taught his son the skill when he was 7 years old. He had played the position for three years on the varsity level in high school. His football idol growing up was Chiefs long snapper Kendall Gammon.
Long snapping wasn't just a simple add on for Brinkley like it is for many players. It was a part of his football fabric.
Brinkley was the starting long snapper on punts by the team's first game against Illinois. And with Brinkley, as with many of his specialists, Pinkel had no intention of endangering such a skilled asset.
The result was Brinkley becoming a spectator the moment the special teams sessions of practice ended. When the offense and defense split up, Brinkley was forced to watch as Saunders and the rest of the team went on without him. And while Brinkley said that he was grateful for the opportunity he'd been given, he knew that he wanted more.
"I kept telling him (Saunders) and telling him that I wanted to play," Brinkley said. "I wanted to do more than snapping. I wasn't satisfied with what I was doing at practice. It felt like something was wrong. I didn't like it, to come out, sit on the sideline and watch everybody play."
Brinkley knew what he had to do. He wanted to play. Having to confront Gary Pinkel? That was a different story.
"I was real nervous at first," Brinkley said. "Approaching a guy like that is really intimidating for the first time."
Brinkley went through with the request despite his initial fear. He asked Pinkel if it would be OK if he tried to do more than snapping. He told him that he wanted a chance to catch a few balls. The response wasn't exactly what he had hoped.
"He pretty much told me no right there," Brinkley said with a laugh.
Eventually Brinkley's campaigning got him a three-week period during spring football to make his case. Initially, it was just some drills with the rest of the receivers. But each practice he saw his workload increase, and by the time Missouri's first scrimmage came Brinkley was working with the third-team offense.
"He always works really hard," sophomore tight end Michael Egnew said. "I understand why the coaches always move him up. Basically, there's no quit in the guy."
Before Missouri's last game against Nevada, the last step in Brinkley's journey up the depth chart was complete. As a part of his weekly press conference, Pinkel announced that Brinkley would start at tight end. Brinkley said the experience he has received within the offense has allowed him to finally break into the lineup.
"You've got to get more than mental reps," Brinkley said. "You've got to get out there and physically do it. When you get the offense down, you can start working on the little things like route running, how deep I am, what I want to do against this coverage."
Brinkley is still looking for his first career reception, and this week Andrew Jones has regained his position as the team's starter at tight end. But Brinkley is still listed as the backup and should see the field against Nebraska.
For now, Brinkley is just thankful that he's getting a chance to break a sweat.
"When we did punt and I had to run down and cover that's really the only time I sweated," Brinkley said. "The rest of practice was cake.
"This practice now, this is hard. But I'm willing to do whatever I can to make it."
Brinkley expands role on Missouri football team
COLUMBIA — Beau Brinkley is finally tired.
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