COLUMBIA — The most impressive play of Thursday’s Missouri football scrimmage developed slowly.
Quarterback Maty Mauk took the snap and looked to his right. His first option was covered, so he unleashed a bullet to a spot 20 yards down the sideline that receiver Darius White was sprinting toward.
As the ball reached its target, a white jersey streaked in to blow up the play. Helmets smacked together and the sound of smashing shoulder pads set off a cacophony of hooting and hollering from sidelines.
Safety Matt White had just made the play of the day with his crushing blow.
“I felt like I hit him hard just from the reaction of everybody,” Matt White said.
Perhaps his teammates’ reaction was amplified by the fact that White usually doesn’t deliver the big hits. He’s a self-described “field general” who is more accustomed to the mental side of the game than the brute force typically associated with the gridiron.
“There’s a fire in me to come back and prove that I can still play,” said White, who started five games as a sophomore but never cracked the starting lineup in 2012. “I’m not old and washed up. I have a chip on my shoulder coming into this year.”
The destruction of his teammate on Thursday was a great way to end fall camp and prove he is ready to start every game for the Tigers this season.
“I think as you watch him over the course of fall, he’s putting himself in more of a position to make plays,” Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch said. “In terms of the violence necessary at the point of attack, I think he’s shown more of a willingness to throw his pads in there.”
White has always been a step above the rest of defensive teammates mentally.
“I’ve got a wit for the game,” he said. “I know what the quarterback wants to do. I know where the holes in the zone are, and the holes in man (coverage) they can attack. I just know where to be.”
He said it’s a gift that’s helped him excel since he started playing as a kid. Playing safety requires that kind of intelligence, but a kamikaze mentality is necessary, too. Successful safeties instill fear in opposing receivers that affects routes and offensive timing.
But Grinch prefers a mentally adept young man who might be a little timid as opposed to a player with animal instincts who can’t properly diagnose the offense’s formation.
“To me, it starts with having a guy that has the awareness,” Grinch said. “If you can trust him from that mental standpoint, then he can play for you. A guy who can’t put himself in position to make plays because he doesn’t understand the call — he’s not going to be in position to make that hit.”
On Thursday, White was able to put everything together and make the play of the day.
“I need to hit a little harder so people know that I’m there,” White said. “I have to make a lot more plays because I’m unknown.”
Interesting words coming from a man who every Missouri receiver will be watching out for at practices.