Wide receiver Thomson Omboga wants to make his senior season count and his versatility is starting to add up.
With Missouri’s offense sputtering against Troy on Sept. 9, Omboga shined, catching six passes for 64 yards.
Then Saturday against Ball State, Omboga did it on special teams, returning six punts for an average of 22.1 yards.
“I’m not really too concerned about, like, getting so many more catches than I was last year,” Omboga said. “I just feel like going out there and contributing every way I can, in special teams, making the good catch. I’m just being up for my team when they call for me.”
Omboga began the season as the No. 2 punt returner, behind cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell. But Mitchell muffed a punt in the in the Troy game, and Omboga replaced him for the rest of the night. Although he didn’t return any punts, Omboga maintained the spot.
“He’s a good player,” quarterback Brad Smith said. “He’s a playmaker; we’ve always known that. Anytime he can touch the ball, he does big things with it.”
Smith said Omboga’s first-quarter 49-yard return against Ball State inspired the offense. Before the return, the Tigers had gained eight yards on three plays. The Tigers converted the return into a 20-yard field goal from Joe Tantarelli.
Omboga nearly returned it all the way but was tripped up from behind. He would have become the first Tiger to return a punt for a touchdown since Marcus James had one from 85 yards at Iowa State in 2002.
Omboga’s average was also hurt by a holding penalty on Jason Simpson that negated a big return late in the third quarter. After the penalty, it was reduced to a 24-yard return. That drive also resulted in a field goal.
Coach Gary Pinkel said the team needs Omboga’s added dimension to help control field position.
“I thought he had good blocking up front,” Pinkel said. “And certainly, with Marcus James and what he did last year, and to see that (Omboga) can do some of those things and get some field position for us, I think it’s critically important.”
James, who completed his eligibility last season, finished sixth in the nation as a punt returner, averaging 14.5 yards.
Against Ball State, Omboga benefited from the booming kicks from punter Reggie Hodges, who averaged 50.9 yards on 10 kicks. Because he was so prolific with his kicks, it created opportunities for Omboga.
“He outkicks his coverage quite a bit,” Pinkel said. “And when he outkicks his coverage, that certainly gives you an opportunity, at least, to possibly have a missed tackle or two, then that puts the defense in a position where leverage is a concern.”
Omboga’s speed and quickness does the rest.
Because it is his senior season, a good showing in the Big 12 standings is a priority for Omboga. The Tigers have never finished better than 4-4 during his three seasons. As a result, Omboga has emphasized the importance of the Tigers’ Big 12 opener against Colorado, at 2:30 on Oct. 2.