Every Missouri football player has one thing on his mind, preparing for a bowl game.
Most are getting ready for the Independence Bowl, but the Tigers’ freshmen and redshirt players are aiming for a trip to a bowl next season, too. Because of the Tigers’ trip to Shreveport this season, the young players are getting a head start on next season.
Aside from the tangible benefits Missouri gets for playing in the postseason, the extra month of practice might be its best reward. The Tigers will have around 14 extra practices before it plays Arkansas on Dec. 31.
After a practice this morning, the players can go home for Christmas. They will return to Columbia in time for the trip to Shreveport, La., on Dec. 27.
When the Tigers first began preparation for their bowl game, it used four groups on offense and defense, allowing the young players opportunities to get valuable repetitions that they would not get until spring practice begins.
Freshman tight end Josh Barbo said it is nice to get a head start for 2004.
“It is a really good thing for me,” Barbo said. “It’s kind of like a pre-spring ball for us. It gives us a good chance to get back and learn the offense and get things going here.”
With the exception of receiver Brad Ekwerekwu and defensive end Xzavie Jackson, every freshman redshirted this season. Under Pinkel’s system, freshmen take a redshirt year to get acclimated to the rigors of college, learn the system and build their bodies in the weight room.
Most of those freshmen came to Missouri in August, participated in two-a-day practices and got familiar with the new surroundings. The majority of the freshmen knew they would redshirt and that has made it easier for them to watch.
Freshman receiver Jason Ray said he is relishing the opportunity to learn and get more opportunities to show the coaches what he can do.
“After the redshirt and running with the scout team, I didn’t get to focus much on our plays,” Ray said. “Now, I am kind of getting back to practicing and learning a lot more so it has been really good for me.”
As the Independence Bowl approaches, the coaching staff will shift practices to focus more on preparing for the Razorbacks. That will change things for the freshmen back to the way they were for most of the season.
Many will take their places on the scout teams, emulating tailback Cedric Cobbs or quarterback Matt Jones.
The MU freshmen get another reward for the extra work they put in the past couple of weeks. Every player gets to travel with the team to the Independence Bowl, meaning the younger players can get a taste of what it is like to travel to a bowl, something they hope to make a habit of in their careers.
Freshman defensive tackle Zane Tomlin said the extra time spent on football will help the Tigers start a trend of going to bowl games.
“That was one of the main reasons I came here was to go to bowls every year,” Tomlin said. “Going to bowl games is great for us as far as extra practice and it means we are winning.”
JACKSON TAKES ACTION: Webster Groves quarterback Darrell Jackson orally committed to Missouri on Saturday.
Jackson visited MU on Dec. 12 and is the second quarterback to commit to the Tigers, along with Rock Bridge’s Chase Patton.
ESPN.com ranks Jackson No.18 among quarterbacks nationally. He finished the season with a state record for total yards in a season with 3,921 and led the Statesmen to their second consecutive state championship appearance.
Jackson is the 18th oral commitment the Tigers have announced.