Instead of hanging out with friends and trying to fight off senioritis, Michael Keck and Luke Lambert were practicing at Faurot Field on Wednesday, hoping to impress the Missouri football team’s coaching staff and earn playing time in the fall.
Keck and Lambert, both linebackers, graduated from high school early and enrolled at MU in January in order to practice with the Tigers this spring. They said they decided to enter school early after hearing about Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman, who did the same thing before his freshman season last year.
“It was kind of my dad’s idea,” Lambert said. “He saw people doing it, and I saw Josh Freeman do it last year. It seemed like a good idea. After my high school football season ended, I kind of thought to myself, ‘I got everything done that I wanted to accomplish in high school.’ I wanted to move on.”
Keck, a four-star prospect from Harrisonville, was considered the star of the Tigers’ recruiting class. He was ranked the No. 4 weakside defensive end in the country in the 2007 class by Rivals.com. Lambert, from Brookfield, was a three-star recruit and the No. 40 outside linebacker. Although both were high school stars, they say the adjustment to college football is going to be difficult.
“I was really excited about it until the last week (when spring practice started),” Keck said. “I thought, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if I can do this,’ but I stuck it out.”
Coach Gary Pinkel said Keck and Lambert have the level of maturity needed to handle the situation.
“I think they’re really doing well,” he said. “I think it’s difficult. I think first of all, you have to have a level of maturity to deal with it because you’re thrown into an environment. Those guys were thrown into weightlifting and got up at six in the morning. They probably say, ‘You didn’t tell us about this in the recruiting process,’ but they’ve matured through it, and I think they’ve settled in,” Pinkel said he has not often dealt with recruits entering the program early, but it is becoming more frequent.
“I see it a little more around the country,” he said. “But, first of all, you have to be a good enough student to get all your high school credits done, too. I don’t necessarily recommend it. It’s an interesting deal, but I’m glad they did it.”
The Tigers have holes to fill at linebacker, where they lost starters Marcus Bacon and Dedrick Harrington, and Pinkel said their early start will give them an advantage over other newcomers competing for playing time at the position.
“It’s a huge advantage to be able to have an opportunity to play,” he said. “They learn the whole system, and we’re physically training them. Both of them have gained probably at least 10 pounds. It puts them in a position to be able to compete.”
Lambert said that if he hadn’t decided to enroll early, he probably would have been at track practice back in Brookfield on Wednesday. Keck, meanwhile, said he’d probably be doing less productive things.
“I’d probably be sitting around playing video games or talking to girls or something,” he said.
Pinkel, however, said it was important for both to experience some of the things that would have gone along with their last semesters in high school.
“Both of these guys are in position where they can go back and go to prom and do some things like that,” he said. “We’re going to work them to do that.”
The Missouri coaching staff is watching both players closely, and linebackers coach Dave Steckel seems to be constantly stalking them on the practice field, something Keck said he is not used to.
“It’s different from what I had in high school,” he said. “My head coach yelled at me a lot, but my position coaches didn’t yell at me quite as much.”
Pinkel joked about the coaching staff following both players around everywhere, including prom.
“I might escort them,” he said.
- Linebacker Brock Christopher sat out practice with what Pinkel called a severely sprained ankle. “If we had a game this week, he wouldn’t have played,” Pinkel said.
- The offense has been running plays out of the I formation during drills in order to prepare the defense for an offensive set it will see from many of their opponents. The defense appeared ready Wednesday, stopping the offense for losses on each of the first three plays out of the formation.
- The defense shined during seven-on-seven drills as well, forcing several turnovers. The highlight was an interception by Travis Cardoza. Cardoza, a walk-on safety, stepped in front of tight end Chase Coffman to pick off a Chase Patton pass in the end zone. Patton redeemed himself later in practice, making several defenders miss on an option keeper that turned into a long run and brought loud cheers and laughs from his offensive teammates.