COLUMBIA — During the opening kickoff of the second half against Nebraska, one sound was louder than the cheers and jeers of the over 70,000 Tiger fans. Charging down the field with reckless abandon, freshman linebacker Andrew Gachkar brought down Nebraska return man Cody Glenn with a pop that resonated throughout the stadium. Big hits on special teams have become more and more frequent this season for Gachkar.
“We kick the ball a certain amount of times a game and if you are out there enough you can make an impact,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “When you get a guy (Gachkar) out there like that who likes to run around out there and make hits, it gets others excited.”
Despite having excelled on offense and defense at Blue Valley West High School in suburban Kansas City, Kan., Gachkar is still relatively new to the outside linebacker position. He played linebacker and safety during his sophomore and junior years in high school, but focused primarily on offense as a running back his senior year. An injured right shoulder decreased his production that year, but not enough for the Missouri recruiting staff to not take notice.
Touted as one of the top 20 prep football players in the state of Kansas, Gachkar’s fast and physical play on the field jumped out to coaches during the recruiting process.
Pinkel refers to Gachkar’s style of play as a “linebacker’s mentality,” though the 225-pound Gachkar wouldn’t limit it to that.
“I think its more of a defensive mentality than anything,” he said. “I’ve always loved running real fast and hitting people.”
For Gachkar, the start to his college career is also the start of a formal introduction to the nuances of playing outside linebacker. He admits that most of his assignments at the position in high school consisted of dropping back into coverage. His physical nature and speed, clocked in the low 4.4 range by recruiting analysts at Rivals.com, helped him compensate for his lack of experience.
Gachkar knows that his football instincts are what put him on the field so early. And those instincts resulted in immediate dividends on special teams, particularly kick and punt coverage where Gachkar has tallied eight tackles and a forced fumble. It is an effort that Pinkel compared to that of Sean Weatherspoon during his true freshman season in 2006. Weatherspoon played sparingly on defense last season but made such an impact on kickoff coverage that he was named the special teams player of the year as a true freshman.
Pinkel saw some similar attributes in Gachkar during the summer practices.
“There were things we saw from him around the 10th, 15th and 17th practices,” Pinkel said. “We saw him fly around and hit people and thought this guy could be on special teams and make an impact.”
Gachkar said he would like to increase his time on the field and make his way into an already deep linebacker rotation.
He admits that as the team goes further into Big 12 play, the more difficult it will become for him see the field beyond special teams.
But he welcomes the challenge.
“It’s a goal,” he said. “Competition is harder now but hopefully I’ll get some time in there.”
NOTES: Tiger offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was named National Offensive Coordinator of the Week on Tuesday by the Master Football Coaches Survey. He receives the award following the Tigers’ 606 yards of total offense Saturday against Nebraska.