COLUMBIA — A single signature sent a message to the Missouri football team's new adversaries in the Southeastern Conference.
Dorial Green-Beckham, considered the top recruit in the nation, made his decision to play for the Missouri football team official Wednesday morning on national television, choosing the Tigers over SEC teams like Arkansas and Alabama.
In some ways the 6-foot-6, 220-pound wide receiver from Hillcrest (Springfield) High School is just one of the 19 players in Missouri’s 2012 recruiting class, representing nothing more than potential. By winning the recruiting battle for Green-Beckham, though, Missouri continues to make strides in building its program and enters the SEC era with the confidence to compete, both on and off the field.
"I think we've grown," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think the Missouri stock went up a little today."
By signing Green-Beckham, Missouri's 2012 class ranking improved considerably. After not including Missouri in its Top 25 on Tuesday, ESPN.com ranked Missouri's group of recruits No. 21 in the country. Rivals.com did not have Missouri in its Top 50. Now, the Tigers are ranked No. 32, and their ranking in the 14-team Southeastern Conference improved from No. 13 to No. 12. Scout.com had Missouri tied for No. 34 overall.
This year's class, including University of Texas transfer Darius White, comprises seven players from Texas, six from Missouri and one each from Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.
As in past years, the coaching staff focused on getting the best players from Missouri. Getting top recruits like Green-Beckham, and offensive lineman Evan Boehm of Lee's Summit West High School fulfilled that goal.
"The best players from Missouri should come to Missouri," Tigers offensive coordinator Dave Yost said. "When the best recruit is in Missouri, that guy should come to Missouri. That's a challenge for us, and from get-go we knew he was going to be heavily recruited."
Louis Fees, a teacher at Hillcrest who coached football during Green-Beckham's first three years there, confirmed that the player felt at home around the Missouri coaching staff as well as in Columbia.
"He wanted to play somewhere he was familiar with," Fees said. "He had been there numerous times and just felt comfortable with the coaching staff there."
The number of recruits from Texas is testimony to the team's continued presence there. Although Texas and a few other powerhouse programs get first dibs, Pinkel and his staff have figured out how to effectively pick up the players the Longhorns miss or choose to ignore. Some of the team's best players this past season — Henry Josey, James Franklin and Michael Egnew, to name a few — are from Texas.
With the move to the SEC, Pinkel hopes the southeastern region of Florida and Georgia, which has similar high school depth, becomes as fertile with recruits.
Running backs coach Brian Jones will recruit primarily in Florida, and offensive line coach Josh Henson will recruit the panhandle and southern Georgia, areas he recruited when he was an assistant at Louisiana State University. New safeties coach Alex Grinch will recruit in Atlanta, which Yost said is comparable to Dallas in terms of talent and depth.
In addition, Pinkel said his staff would be mass communicating by email with high school coaches in those states.
Mass communicating, Coach?
"Numbers you can't even imagine," Pinkel said. "Propaganda marketing will be coming out of our office."
Pinkel said he imagines recruiting in SEC country will be similar to his initial experience in Texas, when high school coaches would tell him to only look at players they felt Pinkel had a chance of getting. To be successful, Missouri must get players from the region that can do well and then pass on the Missouri experience to other high school players from the region.
Jones, though, said he has already made an effort to meet as many high school coaches in Florida as possible and has been thrilled with the response.
"Right now, Missouri is well-known nationally," he said. "In about the month or so I've been down there, I've had great reception from all the coaches. They're looking forward to my coming back down, and I'm looking forward to being down there."
In Sean Culkin, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end from Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., the 2012 recruiting class showed how Missouri's membership in the SEC already has made a difference.
"When Culkin found out that Mizzou was joining the SEC, it was another school that would give him an opportunity to play close to home," Phil Fraver, the Indian Rocks Christian athletics director, said. "Missouri plays in Florida twice next year, and Sean's family will be able to travel and go see him. It doesn't hurt that SEC football is the best in the country, either."
While Green-Beckham set the national high school record for career receiving yards at 6,356, Missouri also signed a quarterback with similarly impressive numbers. Maty Mauk of Kenton, Ohio, holds national records for passing yards, touchdown passes, pass completions and total offense.
Mauk verbally committed to Missouri this past summer and has helped recruit Green-Beckham ever since. His father and high school football coach, Mike Mauk, said they took a trip to Springfield during the summer, and Maty Mauk drove to Columbia this past weekend to be with Green-Beckham during his official visit. When he returned, he told his father he was "pretty confident" Green-Beckham would commit to Missouri.
"I think it's tremendously exciting that they are going to be able to play together," Mike Mauk said. "It is going to be neat to watch them develop and be part of the team coach Pinkel has put together. There will be a learning curve, and they have great wide receivers and quarterbacks there already, but they will do their part and spend a lot of time working to contribute."
Pinkel said he sat in his office with the TV off during Green-Beckham's decision Wednesday and listened for screaming to indicate the player's decision. When he heard them, he jumped out of his seat in joy.
However Green-Beckham's career unfolds, Pinkel said he knew the decision in itself was a victory for the Missouri football program.
"It's really a statement of where we've come from, where we're at now, and, most importantly for me, where we're going to go," Pinkel said.