COLUMBIA — Dorial Green-Beckham thought he was ready.
After all, he was used to the attention. By the time he was in ninth grade, word of Green-Beckham’s talent had already gotten out. His recruiting process was a multiple-year ordeal that drew national attention. The 6-foot-6-inch receiver drew comparisons to NFL stars Andre Johnson and A.J. Green.
So when he stepped onto Faurot Field in front of 70,000 fans at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1, he didn’t expect the feeling that came over him. Green-Beckham, the No. 1 recruit in the country, was nervous. And he had reason to be.
Maybe it was because he didn’t fully understand the playbook, which he openly admits. Maybe it was the fact that he never really had a set position, spending camp as an outside receiver only to be used in the slot once the season started.
Or maybe, just maybe, Green-Beckham, like most freshmen, had trouble adjusting to life as a college student. He admits to a learning curve when figuring out how to balance the rigorous football schedule with his classwork.
And yes, Green-Beckham says he wasn’t ready for 70,000 people to watch his every move on the football field at 18 years old. As it turns out, he is human.
“Every freshman is going to have a nervous spot when they step on the field,” Green-Beckham said. “Some games I was nervous; some games I was ready to play. It’s just something that I had to get used to.
“All eyes were on me.”
For a while, those eyes didn’t like what they were seeing. Green-Beckham struggled out of the gate. Three catches, 32 yards. One catch, five yards. One catch, two yards. One catch, nine yards. Four games, and hardly anything to show from the No. 1 recruit in the country. To make matters worse, Missouri was 0-2 in Southeastern Conference play.
The best word to describe Green-Beckham throughout that four-game stretch was "confused." His playing time was sporadic. When he did get on the field, he was always lined up in a different spot on the field, doing double and triple takes to the sideline to make sure he knew the play call and was lined up where he was supposed to be.
“It was a lot of confusion during that,” Green-Beckham conceded. “Sometimes you can’t really see the play calling from the other side of the field.”
Then there was the tease: the brief moment during Missouri’s week 5 game against Central Florida when things appeared to click for Green-Beckham.
Early in the second quarter, the freshman got open for a catch over the middle. He then used the size everyone raved about to rip through a would-be tackler and turned on the speed even more people were excited about, gliding down the field for an 80-yard touchdown.
That was it — what the Green-Beckham people wanted to see. That was DGB.
But he was quiet for the rest of the game, failing to catch another pass. The following week, his season hit an all-time low. Green-Beckham and two teammates were arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession. The three were all suspended for the team’s game against Vanderbilt, though the charges against Green-Beckham were later reduced to trespassing.
When DGB returned from suspension, he was met by Alabama’s defense and didn’t record a single catch. Through six games, he had just seven catches for 128 yards and one touchdown. So much for top recruit.
“You go to a school, and the day you get there, everybody expects you to be the next greatest player to ever play the game,” new wide receivers coach Pat Washington said. “It takes time.”
For Green-Beckham, it took until a late-October game against Kentucky. He caught seven passes in that game, matching his total from his first six games combined.
From there, he started getting more involved in the offense. He caught six passes against Florida and finished the season with four touchdowns in his final three games. A two-touchdown performance in Missouri’s four-overtime win at Tennessee served as the shining moment of his freshman season.
“It came to me,” Green-Beckham said. “It clicked.”
Whatever “it” was, it’s continued to click for Green-Beckham. He was dominant during the team’s spring practices and at SEC Media Days, and coach Gary Pinkel said the team will have a set number of times that Green-Beckham needs to get the ball each game.
That’s a far cry from a year ago, when Green-Beckham was a small part of the Tigers’ offensive game plan, lost in the pressure and the playbook.
“Look what he’s been through,” Pinkel said. “You’re marked since you’ve been in ninth grade. I think when you look back, you can see how tough that is on young people.
“Nobody hides anymore. They know of this great player in Springfield, Mo. When he’s in ninth grade, people start tracking him. It was amazing. It was as big as I’ve ever seen.”
Green-Beckham has continued his momentum into fall camp. Last year, he was playing a limited number of snaps and switching off between the three receiver positions. Now, he’s entrenched as the team’s “X” receiver, which lines up closest to the Missouri sideline. He has a better grasp of the playbook, and he’s become a master at setting up and running his routes.
“I mean he’s 6-foot-6 and he runs a 4.3 40-yard dash,” redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk said. “He looks like an NFL guy running out there with us.”
More than anything, Green-Beckham just wants to put his freshman season behind him. He answers questions about the season with a smile, but he was relieved when it came to an end.
At the end of the season, Green-Beckham got to return home to Springfield and spend time with his family, a welcome bit of peace to break the hysteria of his first college football season.
“Being able to just go home and use that time to rest my body and hang out with my brothers and sisters and mom and dad, really,” Green-Beckham said. “That’s all I do when I go home since they don’t get that much time to see me.”
When he returned for fall camp, teammates noticed a more relaxed Green-Beckham. For the first time, he’s comfortable on and off the field. Instead of worrying about the play call, he’s anticipating coverages. He’s attacking the football, too, leading to big plays down the field.
The pressure from his freshman season has faded away. He knows how to balance his class schedule with his practice schedule. He knows all eyes will still be on him, maybe even more so, but he has accepted that.
He’s just focused on football, and he’s even having fun doing it. That’s allowed, right?
“That’s just maturation,” Pinkel said. “He has a chance to be a great player.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.