COLUMBIA — Kendial Lawrence knows how quickly things can change.
Early last season, Lawrence was atop the Missouri depth chart at tailback as the team headed into a game against Arizona State. Then he broke his left fibula at practice.
In the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils last season, healthy Tigers running backs became scarce. Marcus Murphy, was out the whole season with a torn labrum and De'Vion Moore sprained his ankle early in the game, leaving Henry Josey to carry the load.
"It's pretty fragile. A lot of guys can be behind you at any time," Lawrence said. "So it's important to always stay on your job and work your hardest to make sure you're gonna be there every week to battle for the team."
As Josey emerged as a star, Lawrence returned in a secondary role after missing three games.
When Josey injured his knee, Lawrence stepped back in as the starter and averaged 107.25 total yards per game and scored three touchdowns.
"I wanted to build onto that," Lawrence said. "I knew there were a lot of little things I needed to fix to make myself better."
After a wild sequence of running back injuries, Lawrence found himself atop the depth chart once again this season. But it wasn't by accident.
Because of the severity of Josey's injury, Lawrence realized he had an opportunity to become a major contributor to the offense.
After spring practice this year, the senior from Rockwall, Texas, reflected on what he needed to do to prepare for his final season at Missouri.
"It just came down to a point to where you've been here three and a half, almost four years, you're getting experience and you're learning," Lawrence said. "You always want your last year to be your best year. It's just not gonna happen. You have to do the little things to fix that and make it all better."
Tailback is not a stable position by any means, but Lawrence plans on playing this time when Missouri plays Arizona State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
He has worked to stay healthy and keep his body ready. While a broken fibula is not something that can be prevented, Lawrence said there are other injuries players can avoid with the right preparation.
"You know the little things, little exercises, little stretches that you can do to tighten your body up," Lawrence said. "Just prepare yourself for the season that's ahead of you."
Brian Jones, Missouri running backs coach, says the team tries to use multiple running backs so they can both prevent injuries and have backup players ready when someone suffers an injury.
Lawrence said he worked this summer paying more attention to detail than he ever had before. He wanted to make the most of his opportunities to carry the football.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 195 pound tailback focused his workouts on biceps, triceps, shoulders, back and legs. Lawrence started watching film outside of meetings, something he had not done in previous years.
"He's really improved from last year," Jones said. "He worked hard in the summertime. He's really just buying into all the little workout things that we talk about — just the daily regiments to make himself better, all the little detail things."
Lawrence saw the extra work pay off with a strong camp. He started off the season strong, too.
Lawrence recorded the longest run of his career, a 76-yard touchdown in Missouri's season opening game against Southeastern Louisiana.
He took a handoff from quarterback James Franklin, turned out to the right and showed off his speed, running past Southeastern Louisiana defenders before they could cut him off.
In the game against Georgia, things did not go quite as smoothly for Lawrence. His first carry in the game, the first play from scrimmage, went for a loss of two yards. The only other time Lawrence touched the ball in the first half was when he and Franklin flubbed a handoff that led to a turnover.
Franklin said he did not realize how infrequently Lawrence was involved in the first half. After acknowledging that he sometimes jokes about being a better runner than Lawrence, Franklin said he wanted to make handing off a priority.
"He's quite a bit faster than me, so I'd like to see him get the ball," Franklin said.
Another hindrance to the running game was Missouri's beat-up offensive line. According to head coach Gary Pinkel, the Tigers were without five of the team's top 10 offensive lineman after Elvis Fisher left the game Saturday. The remaining ones were left battling to block the pair of Bulldogs defensive tackles that totaled over 700 pounds.
Despite the Tigers' lack of success with the running game in the first half against the Bulldogs, Lawrence did not change his mentality. He believes he can make big plays against any defense with the help of his teammates.
"You can never predict the game. You can never predict the defense like that," Lawrence said. "We try to show guys we have a great running game and we can run on anyone when we're on our A game."
In the fourth quarter, Lawrence was able to break off a 39 yard run. Even though he was excited about the success of that one play, Lawrence, like many of his teammates, was not pleased with the result of the game.
"You can tell how much it meant to the guys. There were a lot of guys walking around here just stale-faced, didn't want to say too much," Lawrence said. "You could just tell that it really meant a lot. We really wanted to get that win."
Lawrence said seeing his upset teammates motivates him. It motivates him to work harder and focus more, just as he did in preparation for the season.
"The loss happened," Lawrence said. "We had a lot of mistakes that we weren't expecting. We've got a lot to learn from that game. I think it will help us in the future."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.