COLUMBIA — Four games. Four plays with major impact.
That might be expected for quarterback Blaine Gabbert or wide receiver T.J. Moe. But a backup freshman defensive end? Not so much.
Michael Sam has made the most of his short career. Already he has blocked a punt, forced a safety, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble.
“When he’s put in a position to make a play, he don’t let the opportunity slip by him,” senior defensive back Carl Gettis said. “That’s the type of guy he is.”
On Saturday, Sam picked off a pass when Miami (Ohio) was in the red zone and returned in 95 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately for Sam, the score, which was the first of his life, didn’t count because of a penalty on the return.
“I was actually surprised that I caught it,” Sam said. “I just, like, run as fast as I can. I got in to score a touchdown, but you know what? Stuff happens. I’m not going to worry about it.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he couldn’t believe the defensive lineman even made it all the way down the field without being tackled.
“That was the longest he’s probably run in his life,” Pinkel said. “He’s got a good motor. It’s nice to see a guy come in and respond like that. I thought he did a good job.”
On the play, Sam stumbled into the end zone and flipped as he crossed the line, but he insisted it wasn’t in celebration.
“I didn’t somersault,” Sam said. “I was just so tired. I was trying to dive in there. I kind of screwed it up. I wasn’t trying to showboat or anything, I was just trying to get in the end zone."
The first sign that Sam would make a playmaker for the Tigers was when he recorded five sacks in the opening scrimmage of the summer. His game-changing potential could have been seen as a fluke, but after four games, Sam has lived up to the hype.
“He just has a knack for being around the ball, being able to make plays,” Gettis said. “He does his job, he does his assignment. When you do that, sometimes the ball just comes to you. And he hustles every play. When you hustle the ball comes to you.”