COLUMBIA — Russell Hansbrough pokes his head through the door of the locker room and walks slowly into the media room. He has just finished the best game of his career, a 58-14 Missouri win in which the sophomore running back rushed for more than 100 yards. People want to talk to him.
But instead Hansbrough turns his head to the corner of the room, where another running back has a crowd of reporters sticking cameras and recorders in his face. He's clutching the game ball. More people want to talk to him.
Henry Josey also just rushed for more than 100 yards, playing in his first game since a 2011 knee injury. Hansbrough smiles. He can wait.
"I already knew it was coming," Hansbrough said with a laugh.
It was Josey's first game back since 2011. He scored a touchdown and ran for 100 yards. People want to know how it felt and what it means for the rest of the season. Even though Josey's 68-yard touchdown came in the third quarter with the game well in hand for Missouri, it's a big deal to his team, a big deal to his coaches and a big deal to the people in this room.
Meanwhile, in the opposite corner of the room stands a running back who was getting the carries in the first quarter when the score was much closer. He delivered with two touchdowns and more than 100 yards.
But he isn't coming back from a knee injury. He's just been patiently waiting his turn and drawing praise from his coaches. Coach Gary Pinkel, for one, wasn't surprised by the results.
"I have been talking all through practice and camp about Russell Hansbrough and I have seen some glimpses," Pinkel said after the game. "He is going to be real good. He is a different type of runner, which is OK because every runner is a little different, and that style certainly presents itself."
Hansbrough, however, still doesn't think he has arrived. Not after one game and only eight carries. But he has the attention of his teammates, particularly Josey, who returned from injury to a more crowded backfield than expected.
After the game, Josey sent out a tweet, calling Hansbrough his "wingman" and adding that he's going to push him every week.
"It's a competition," Josey said. "I know I have to bring my A-game every week. I was happy the whole game, just watching him run, watching him make moves. I told him, 'You look like a young me.'"
Hansbrough is familiar with the younger, pre-injury version of Josey. Back in 2011, when Hansbrough was a high school senior in Texas, just getting home from his game on Friday night, Missouri was playing Arizona State. At the time, Hansbrough was committed to Arizona State and turned on the game while it was entering overtime. Josey had already done his damage.
Some call it Josey's breakout game. He only touched the ball 11 times, but he piled up 145 yards rushing and receiving. The Tigers ended up losing in overtime, but Hansbrough still remembers Josey's performance.
"I saw Henry running and I was like 'No, no not against Arizona State.'"
A coaching change at Arizona State had Hansbrough changing his tune. He then decommitted from Arizona State. Looking for a new place to play, he visited Missouri and got to meet Josey and Marcus Murphy. The three running backs, all from Texas, hit it off immediately. Hansbrough was sold.
Now the three are competing with one another for carries. On Saturday, Hansbrough got the bulk of the load in the first half, but Josey finished with a team-high 13 touches.
"Sometimes we'll be on the sideline fighting about who's about to go in," Hansbrough said. "All of the running backs want to see each other succeed and go out there and make big plays."
For now, Josey is the star, even if his role is similar to Hansbrough's in the offense. But the sophomore doesn't mind playing second fiddle. He stands and waits patiently while Josey conducts interviews in front of a massive crowd. He often gets lost in the shuffle and only has to answer questions from a few reporters at a time. He's happy for Josey and is comfortable hanging in the shadows, sometimes anonymous.
"I'm just real proud of him," Hansbrough said. "I'm thankful he's on my team. He's shown me a lot."