COLUMBIA — Although there’s still one game left in the season, the Missouri football team is spending its weekend looking toward the future.
Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff still have to prepare for Missouri’s Dec. 26 trip to the Independence Bowl to take on North Carolina, a game Pinkel said has “mammoth” importance. But according to junior wide receiver T.J. Moe, players won’t begin working on that game plan until next weekend.
Missouri (7-5, 5-4 in Big 12)
vs. North Carolina (7-5, 3-5 ACC)
WHEN: 4 p.m. Dec. 26
WHERE: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM;KCMQ/98.7 FM
This weekend’s practices are focused on working with the program’s young players. It’s back to the same rotational drills, the same whistle blowing and the same air horns that were commonplace during the team’s preseason camp in August.
“That’s the young players who don’t really get coached during the year that much,” Pinkel said Friday after practice. “They’re down there doing scout team and all that stuff. Now what they’re doing is they’re working on our plays, our defenses. We have the veteran players back off in several of the periods, and we just focus on coaching those young players. And they don’t get the coaching like that when they’re on scout team. That’s really the benefit you get from it.”
As younger players on the roster were introduced to new aspects of the program, another group was introduced to the program for the first time.
A group of recruits visited practice at the Devine Pavilion on Saturday morning. Pinkel walked around during practice shaking hands and chatting with the high school players and their family members. At the end of practice, each recruit was introduced in front of current players, who cheered each recruit.
Current players are paired up with a prospective Tiger for the weekend, Moe said. The current player eats meals with the recruit and his family and spends Saturday night with the recruit. Moe said the Saturday night activities will vary from player to player, as some of the recruits have never been to Columbia before.
Current players spend the day briefing recruits on anything they want to know about life as a Tiger, Moe said, whether through the organized players panel or just through spending time with the recruits. Recruits and players attended Saturday’s basketball game between Missouri and Navy.
A few current Tigers are also working to getting onto the college football field next season.
Safety Tavon Bolden, who was dismissed from the team for academic reasons before the season started, is practicing with the team again. He practiced Friday and Saturday, and Pinkel said Bolden’s dismissal and reinstatement will eventually be a very positive experience for the safety.
“Reluctantly we had to do it,” Pinkel said of dismissing Bolden. “Now what we did is not just say, ‘OK leave the university, see you later and good luck down the road.’ We gave him another opportunity, an opportunity to go out and do (better) academically by himself and get committed to academics. It’s certainly good for us to have him back with the program, but I think it’s also — we gave a guy an opportunity to prove himself, and now he’s going to come here, he’s going to graduate from college and I think it turns out to be very positive.”
Pinkel said that Bolden won’t go to the bowl game, but the team expects him to be back on scholarship in January.
Two Tigers who missed time with injuries this season are also working toward 2012. Running back Henry Josey — who was named to the All-Big 12 First Team earlier in the week — was on crutches Saturday. He wove his way through the stretching lines at the beginning of practice, talking to teammates before taking a seat on a training table to watch the rest.
Offensive lineman Elvis Fisher, who also sustained a knee injury, could return to the Tigers next season. According to Pinkel, Fisher is waiting to hear back from the NCAA before making a decision. Pinkel said that even without on-field contributions, Fisher is still great to have around.
“Even if you’re not playing football,” Pinkel said, “you’re better off having him in your program, walking to the locker room because he’s such a great leader. He’s ‘Mr. Comedy.’”
“Mr. Comedy” stood above practice for a while during drills shouting down to his fellow linemen. He would squirt water from his water bottle on them from a story above, and they would laugh it off. He shouted nicknames and other jokes. But, when a younger offensive lineman was bulldozed during a drill, Fisher yelled down instructions to the teammate on how to move his feet and where to move his hands.
Missouri will practice Sunday afternoon before taking a week off during final exams. Practice resumes Friday, when the Tigers begin preparation for the Independence Bowl.