Patience is something not often talked about in football.
Speed, athleticism and emotion are all common attributes of good players, but patience is not necessarily a virtue in the fast-paced, high-contact sport.
Brad Ekwerekwu, a sophomore wide receiver, has had to learn to be patient this year. He has used that attitude to become a consistent option in the passing game and a potential top tier receiver in the future.
Ekwerekwu looked lost at times at the beginning of the season, failing to make many plays but has quickly become an important part of the strong Tiger receiver corps. He said this progression was simply a matter of becoming more comfortable in big games.
“As time goes by, I’m just a player that will get into the game and get more confident in game time situations,” he said.
Fellow wide receiver Thomson Omboga said he could tell that Ekwerekwu was eager to prove himself and become one of the team leaders in catches, but that it took him a few games to find the patience to play the position.
As a senior who has been in the program for four years, Omboga said he advised Ekwerekwu to keep showing what he could do, and that eventually, the coaching staff would recognize his ability.
“He was very impatient at first, but he kept his cool,” Omboga said. “You can’t expect to come in and make a big impact right away.”
Last season, there was a chance Ekwerekwu would have no impact after wearing the red shirt for the first five games of the season.
Coach Gary Pinkel decided to pull Ekwerekwu’s red shirt in the fifth game of the year against Kansas and the freshman responded by making 11 catches on the season for 178 yards. Along with defensive end Xzavie Jackson, he was one of two true freshmen who played for the Tigers in 2003 and had his first career start in the Independence Bowl against Arkansas.
When this season began Ekwerekwu started at wide receiver. He amassed nine receptions in his first five games but had his biggest effort against Missouri’s toughest opponent this season, No. 8 Texas.
Ekwerekwu, an Arlington, Texas native, looked like an experienced receiver and had a season-high four catches for 27 yards in the Tigers’ 28-20 loss.
“Compared to last year, I’m more comfortable in the offense, and the guys around me have taken me under their wing,” Ekwerekwu said.
His visible maturity on the field this season is not only a result of more playing time, but having other receivers to emulate and go to for advice.
Sean Coffey, a junior wide receiver, has shown vast improvement this season after struggling at times with dropped balls and inconsistency. Coffey is second on the team in receptions (28), leads the team with 414 receiving yards and is second with six touchdowns scored.
Ekwerekwu said Coffey often gives him advice and that he provides an excellent model for a younger receiver.
“Sean is one of the biggest contributors to my progression,” Ekwerekwu said. “He compares my career to his previous years.”
Missouri’s third starter at receiver, Omboga, also shows how wide receivers can progress in the Missouri program. After a mildly successful freshman season, Omboga was the Tigers’ third-leading receiver in 2002 and led the team in 2003. He leads the team again this season with 29 receptions and is second with 290 receiving yards.
Omboga advised Ekwerekwu to find his own way to be successful within Missouri’s system and said he thinks Ekwerekwu has found his place.
“He’s getting better as an all-around receiver,” Omboga said.
With the running game struggling to produce, Ekwerekwu and the rest of the receivers will need to continue their strong play to give Missouri a chance to win its last three games.
Ekwerekwu not only has grown confident in his own abilities but said that he believes the offense will find a way to be as effective as it was earlier in the season.
“We have to execute our game plan and play with emotion and enthusiasm,” he said.