When Sean Coffey switched his jersey number to 12 before last season, he was immediately compared to Justin Gage, who wore that number during his time at Missouri.
They were a similar height and physical build and had similar potential to break a game open with a deep pass.
Although Coffey showed flashes of brilliance during 2003, the expectations to become the next Gage, now a receiver for the Chicago Bears, went unfulfilled, in large part because of inconsistency.
After consistently catching passes and stretching the field through four games this season, the comparisons to Gage have returned for Coffey, who said he wears No. 12 because his birthday is July 12.
“Sean has really good hands,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “But he’s catching everything in practice now. He looks like Justin Gage in practice. Justin Gage would catch everything all the time. I’m certainly very pleased with him maturing.
“We’re only a few games into the season, but it’s neat to see him develop. And it’s all about consistency, and that’s the big difference between the Sean Coffey this year and the Sean Coffey last year.”
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Gage, who played at MU from 1999-2002, holds school records for receptions in a game (16), in a season (82) and in a career (200). He also has the record for receiving yards in a career with 2,704.
Coffey, too, has noticed his development, maturing in all aspects, which has yielded more confidence.
“I would have to say everything, because I’ve gotten much stronger and faster, just smarter with football, period,” he said. “That there can carry you a long way. A couple catches here and there can give you a lot of confidence.”
Coffey, a junior from East Cleveland, Ohio, provided the Tigers (3-1, 1-0 Big 12 Conference) some much-needed breathing room Saturday in the third quarter against Colorado. On a third-and-seven, Coffey caught a five-yard out, shook off the nearest defender, picked up a block and went down the sideline to the end zone.
The 51-yard touchdown made the score 17-9.
“It was really great to see him catch that ball, and go up field,” Pinkel said. “His determination to get that thing in the end zone, you could tell it became very personal for him, and I like to see that.”
It was Coffey’s 15th catch and third touchdown. His 258 receiving yards lead the team. He finished 2003 with 27 catches and one touchdown.
With Coffey holding on to passes, Pinkel said the Tigers can install specific plays in the game plan to highlight his physical attributes. When he caught a 15-yard touchdown pass against Ball State, Coffey merely outjumped the defender in the end zone.
Before halftime against Colorado, he used his height to catch what would have been a 60-yard touchdown. Although negated by an offensive pass interference call, it showed how Coffey’s big play ability has developed.
“It started in the summer,” quarterback Brad Smith said. “His work ethic and his whole attitude, he took it to another level and decided he was going to make a difference.”
Although he will credit Gage for breaking him into college football, Coffey said Pinkel often challenged him to elevate his play this year.
“That was a big part of my performance this year, too, because coach Pinkel drilled it into to me all offseason, ‘We need more consistency,’” Coffey said. “He told all of us that, but he told me personally a couple of times, just walking past me in the hallways. I took that kind of personally, and that’s been in the back of my mind every day.”
Knowing he would enter the season with increased demands from his coach, Coffey made an extra effort before the season.
“All the quarterbacks and receivers, we spent a lot more time than I’ve ever spent since I’ve been here in the offseason, especially in the summer,” Coffey said. “We used that to our advantage, and we’re just trying to make it show on the field.”
Coffey has also improved his speed. When he arrived in Columbia, he ran a 4.79-second, 40-yard dash. Last winter, it decreased to 4.5.
LIMITED SEATS AVAILABLE: Missouri’s athletic department announced that fewer than 600 reserved tickets remain for the Tigers’ Oct. 23 game against Oklahoma State, and nearly no tickets remain for the Nov. 6 game against Kansas State.
As a result, the Tigers will install temporary bleachers on the field and on the north concourse for those games. Those seats will hold 3,500.
Should those seats sell out, the Tigers will release the general admission hill tickets for sale. Hill tickets do not normally go on sale before game day.