COLUMBIA — Xavier Smith is a redshirt freshman at cornerback, a position stacked with talent and experience. He is No. 4 on the depth chart and he is fine with that.
While he spends this season concentrating on improving and learning, he gets to be the king of something.
Starting defensive ends Jacquies Smith (toe) and Brad Madison (shoulder) returned to practice, while starting safeties Matt White (ankle) and Kenji Jackson (hamstring) returned to most drills but still wore red pinnies that indicate they shouldn't be hit too hard. That didn't stop defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson for hammering wide receiver Jerrell Jackson (hamstring) on one play, in which Jackson's helmet flew off.
Center Travis Ruth (strained Achilles) continued to sit out of practice, as did safety Tavon Bolden (lower back). Offensive lineman Austin Wuebbels sat out of the team drills at the end of practice with what coach Gary Pinkel called a "tweaked neck."
Defensive back Braylon Webb provided a hit to wide receiver Marcus Lucas just as hard, if not harder, than Richardson's. Lucas had already made a nice catch on James Franklin's pass down the right sideline but especially impressed receivers coach Andy Hill when he hung onto the pass. His helmet, too, flew off.
Defensively, linebacker Andrew Wilson had the highlight of the day when he intercepted Corbin Berkstresser during live drills. Xavier Smith also intercepted a pass thrown by Ashton Glaser earlier in the practice.
Team captain Elvis Fisher rejoined the team a week after season-ending knee surgery. Fisher followed the offensive linemen on a golf cart.
The "Swag King."
Granted, it's a self-given title, but one that has caught on with his fellow defensive backs, whether they mean it in jest or not.
Smith has the upbeat personality and sense of humor to warrant the nickname. His Twitter account, X_r2t6d (x-rated, if you didn't catch it), is one of the more entertaining among the Missouri players. And by all accounts, his first name (pronounced ex-ZAY-vee-er), which he says he got from former NBA player and Slamball coach Xavier McDaniel, is cool.
Apparently Smith thinks he has the requisite sense of style, too, though his teammates call it random at best.
"He wears, like, green Vans with green shirts," redshirt sophomore cornerback Randy Ponder said.
Smith and Ponder, both from Edmond, Okla., competed against each other in high school. Ponder's Santa Fe High School, had the upper hand — it won "Edlam," the honor given to the best team among the town's three high schools, all four years he was there. Smith had to wait for Ponder to graduate before his school, North High School , finally beat Santa Fe High School.
Smith and Ponder weren't friends in high school, but they said they knew of each other because of the big plays they made for their teams. Ponder played running back in high school and converted to cornerback with the Tigers. Smith has always been a cornerback except for that one time they let him carry the ball at running back.
"It went for negative two yards," Smith said.
When Smith visited Missouri, he spoke with Ponder, who had positive things to say about the school and the team. Smith, recruited by offensive line coach Josh Henson, chose Missouri over in-state Tulsa as well as TCU, Colorado State and Washington State.
Smith lives with sophomore E.J. Gaines, who starts at cornerback. Although they are the same age, Smith considers Gaines a mentor.
"He's very helpful because he has started," Smith said. "With him being my roommate, I can ask him questions whenever I want, and I learn a lot from him. He makes sure I'm competing every day."
Making sure Smith's tweets are appropriate is a job left up to Henson. The team considers every tweet a "potential news release," and if Henson thinks one has gone too far he will send Smith a text message repeating the controversial tweet and demanding it be removed.
"Coach Henson has only done that twice," Smith said. "I'm a quick learner."
But Smith still shares his personality.
On Monday he tweeted, "All those Sorority girls that went out last night (have) eyes (that) look like they got punched by Rocky #hangoverPt.3."
Henson hasn't texted him about it, so Smith guessed that one was all right.
Smith suffered a high ankle sprain during a scrimmage in April that required surgery. He didn't return until the first preseason practice on Aug. 3. Throughout camp, he and senior cornerback Trey Hobson have competed for the most interceptions.
"X is real energetic," Hobson said. "It's hard to get him down, and that's what you want in a corner. He's shown a lot of improvement since the beginning of camp."
Apparently, it's hard to get him to drop the "Swag King" title, too. Hobson said they tease Smith about it, and say that Ponder, a "cool, laid back" kind of guy, actually deserves the title.
"Randy really has the swag," Hobson joked. "X just talks about having it."