COLUMBIA — Jimmy Costello is not sure what to do with the rock.
Last fall, the senior quarterback decided his football days would be over at the end of the season. He had an additional year of eligibility, but after living his dream of walking onto the Missouri football team, the Liberty native was ready to pursue another goal: enlisting in the Army.
Tuesday was the second day players geared up in full pads and the first day they had to head out for practice twice.
Still no Sheldon
On Day No. 6 of practice, there was still no sign of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson or word of his eligibility.
After leaving practice early on Monday, right tackle Chris Freeman returned to the field. Wide receiver Gahn McGaffie (strained hamstring) and cornerback Robert Steeples (right ankle injury) both sat out of most of the drills again.
Pinkel pleased with offensive effort
James Franklin and the other quarterbacks made their fair share of mistakes, but coach Gary Pinkel said he was happy with how they competed in the scored drills. The offense was victorious in one-on-ones between receivers and cornerbacks as well as the first 11-on-11 drill at the far end of the field.
"The offense did a real good job today as far as points," Pinkel said. "I thought we did some good things today. I think what happens is it's the second day in a row of pads, and with heat and getting up early and all that other stuff ... you have those instances when you're tired and sore. That's when you need leadership."
Bolden steps up
Sophomore free safety Tavon Bolden picked off two passes in the morning session, one thrown by Corbin Berkstresser and another thrown by Jimmy Costello. Bolden was No. 1 on the depth chart after the spring Black and Gold game but fell to third behind sophomore Matt White and redshirt freshman Braylon Webb because of undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Pinkel likes White's combination of athleticism, intelligence and toughness, but free safety is one position where there's definitely no clear starter yet, and Bolden looks like he's fighting to get back to where he was.
"It's a battle there, and we're going to see where it goes," Pinkel said. "There are competitions all over the place, and all that stuff will sort itself out the next couple of weeks."
Costello didn’t participate in senior day, but he did take part in another tradition — leaving with a whitewashed rock from the “M” at the north end of Memorial Stadium.
Now Costello is back. Every day since practice started he has answered questions about his role as a Tiger.
Is he competing for playing time, or is he a player-coach for James Franklin and the young back-ups, Ashton Glaser and Corbin Bersktresser? Does he still plan to enlist, or has that dream been put aside?
There are other questions, too.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to return the rock or what,” Costello joked after the first of two practices on Tuesday.
His road back began last spring, when he planned to enlist. Costello grew up admiring the military, and he considered enrolling at one of the academies upon graduating from Liberty High School.
Football got in the way that time, and though he only threw 17 passes for 64 yards in three seasons, he established himself first as a reliable player, then later as a knowledgeable leader.
Before joining the Army, Costello wanted to be just as prepared. He realized he would need corrective eye surgery at some point, and now seemed like the best time to get it. Instead of enlisting in the spring, he got the surgery and put off signing up until the fall. After graduating with a degree in education, he spent the summer substitute teaching and working at Wilson’s fitness club in Columbia.
Then in May, quarterback Tyler Gabbert, a contender to start, decided to transfer. It came as a surprise to the coaching staff, which now had only two returning passers, not including Berkstresser, an incoming freshman.
Offensive coordinator David Yost knew Costello hadn’t enlisted yet, so he talked to head coach Gary Pinkel and then called Costello into his office one day when the quarterback was working out at the athletic complex. Yost asked Costello if he had any set plans for the fall and, if not, whether he’d consider returning to the team.
“If he had thought about it, he did a good job of acting surprised,” Yost said.
Costello took a week to consider it before accepting. By the beginning of June, his decision to return had become public.
“Jimmy was really good when we lost Tyler,” Pinkel said. “We talked to him … to come back with his experience, not only from a football standpoint but his confidence level, knowledge and maturity as an older guy, especially when you’ve got young quarterbacks around. He’s bringing a lot to this.”
It made a difference to Franklin, now the starter with Gabbert gone. The guy who had been on the sideline giving advice during spring practices was back in uniform.
“The first thing I thought was ‘Brett Favre’ — he got out all spring and then came back in the summer,” Franklin joked.
“But seriously, it’s always good to have Jimmy back because he has the experience. He’s like a double-veteran. We give him a hard time because he’s going to be getting the rock twice, but when he came back it was a lot of comfort for me because I know there are things I can pick up from him.”
Being the heir to fast learners like Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert, Franklin is expected to run the offense without much of a learning curve.
At times Franklin has felt that plays not only have to work, but work a certain way. Costello has been there to tell him plays don’t always work out the way they’re drawn. He’s shown Franklin how to adjust, and how such adjustments say as much about him as arm strength or precision in the pocket.
Yost said Costello is still competing for playing time, but he compared him to Ty Detmer, a quarterback NFL teams would bring in more for his ability to mentor rookies than his skill.
“You sit there in meetings, and (Costello) is able to go over how to see coverage and certain things about certain plays that previously Blaine, Chase or Brad would have talked about,” Yost said. “It gives somebody for Corbin to hear that from, and a lot of things James is going through for the first time, too. They all kind of lean on him and ask him questions.”
One day during his freshman preseason, Costello and fellow quarterbacks Daniel and Chase Patton attempted to throw the ball over the wall at the south end of the stadium. Costello was the only one to do it.
He's not sure if he still could. These days, he’s taking graduate classes and working toward his master's degree. He still plans to enlist in the fall and join the Army in 2012.
If he gets to play on Saturdays, great. If not, that’s OK too.
“I know my role,” Costello said. “I’m here to help them grow and improve. If I’m able to play to my maximum ability, then I’m going to press those guys and try to make them better. When I’m not getting reps, I’m trying to help them grow as leaders on the field.”
Yost said Costello looked rusty last week, but since he’s reacquainted himself with the motions, he has looked good. He’s the one throwing the ball to the right place, if not always executing the throw perfectly.
Tuesday morning, a drill simulating third down situations ended with consecutive passes by Costello. The first was one of the better completions of the drill. Tavon Bolden intercepted the second.
Moments later Costello stood in front of his fellow quarterbacks and wide receivers along the sideline. He had their attention.
“Who wants to get better?” he asked.