COLUMBIA — Linebacker Will Ebner's season started later than the rest of his teammates on the Missouri football team, and he wasn't happy about it. But he kept his mouth shut, accepted his situation and waited for the opportunity to release his pent-up energy on the football field.
Ebner's chance came last Saturday, and he did not disappoint.
Starting at middle linebacker in place of injured Luke Lambert, Ebner led the Tigers' defense against San Diego State with nine tackles.
A hamstring injury limited Ebner, a junior, during the last part of preseason practices, and a driving while intoxicated arrest on Aug. 22 put him in the doghouse with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. Ebner received a two-game suspension for the arrest, making Missouri's game against the Aztecs his season debut.
"Obviously you sit out for two weeks, and you know you're playing, you're watching the team playing, you're going to have a little vengeance when you get out on the field," Ebner said.
It's a terribly appropriate word for how Ebner plays. Even before the suspension, Ebner's style was retaliatory. Coaches tell players to hit an opponent like he just stole their wallet. Ebner tackles like he is playing against someone who made off with his life savings.
His teammates say Ebner's ability to lay a big hit on a ball carrier brings immediate energy to the Tigers.
"It was pretty awesome to see him out there, because he always has big play potential," starting outside linebacker Andrew Gachkar said. "One of the hits he had out there, I was just in awe in the middle of the play. He smashed the guy. He's always good for one of those a game. Will brings some huge hits, that's for sure."
Ebner's performance earned him another week atop the depth chart. He will start at middle linebacker against Miami of Ohio, and Lambert will move to outside linebacker.
That leaves sophomore Zaviar Gooden out of the starting lineup in a group that now goes four deep at three positions. However, coaches and players both said that Gooden will see plenty of playing time as part of a rotation that includes the three starters and freshman Andrew Wilson, who started at middle linebacker when both Lambert and Ebner were out for Missouri's game against McNeese State.
The rotation will be used to combat fatigue. Gachkar hinted that one of the reason's Ebner was so outstanding against San Diego State was that he had "fresh legs."
"A lot of guys were saying that to me during the week," the soft-spoken Ebner said. "But I had been getting up in the morning doing some disciplinary punishment. So I personally didn't feel that my legs were that much fresher than anyone else's. But as far as the first game goes, I felt good."
Those good feelings became great after the Tigers won the game, thanks in large part to Ebner and the defense's efforts in the fourth quarter.
"It felt great, especially after the win," Ebner said. "Just the feeling in the locker room after winning a game is great, and it kind of multiplied after being out for two weeks."