Jamal Brooks was out for a walk when he suddenly got the news that college football teams around the country were canceling their seasons.
“My phone started ringing a lot, you know, getting a lot of text messages, and (Missouri tight end) Daniel Parker was talking about things, and I was just like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’” Brooks said. “So that’s when I opened up Twitter and I kind of saw that, basically, I don’t know, my timeline was going crazy about college football probably getting canceled.”
Brooks, a senior linebacker, has a heightened sense of urgency to play this season. It’s his last chance to claim a starting job after biding his time and seeing the field as a backup and a special teams player in each of the last three seasons.
As he kept scrolling, he saw the hashtag #WeWantToPlay from college football players around the country, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
That night, Brooks and Parker Jr. were two of several Missouri players who, despite COVID-19, voiced their desire to play this season on social media.
“It’s plain and simple — we want to play,” Brooks said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of work up to this point, and if the doctors and everybody say we can play, we want to be out there.”
That movement and a decision by the Southeastern Conference this week to go ahead with the football season means Missouri and Brooks will kick things off with fall camp Monday and prepare for a 10-game SEC slate.
Few players will have a camp with stakes as high as Brooks, who will be up against Aubrey Miller Jr., Devin Nicholson and Cameron Wilkins for the starting linebacker spot next to preseason All-SEC pick Nick Bolton.
“I’m looking to go out and take a position,” Brooks said. “I feel like everybody says that, but as a senior I’ve been on the field, I haven’t redshirted, I’ve played my role for three years, I’ve been here whenever the team has needed me, I’ve stepped up into those positions, I’ve made plays when I got in the game.
“So at this point, I just want to go out and take a spot.”
The linebacker battle will be one of the many position battles just out of the spotlight while the race for the starting quarterback spot gets underway next week. Shawn Robinson, Connor Bazelak and Taylor Powell are the three front-runners for the quarterback competition that will set the tone this fall camp.
“I think that’s elevated the play of everyone,” offensive lineman Case Cook said. “And then it (makes you realize) that the most limelight position of quarterback, if that’s up for grabs, then heck, my job could be up for grabs, too.”
Another battle to look out for is at wide receiver. Jalen Knox returns, but graduate transfers Keke Chism and Damon Hazelton will compete for starting spots to replace graduates Johnathan Johnson and Jonathan Nance. Graduate transfer Mike Maietti will also try to earn a spot on the offensive line.
Another challenge for the team to meet once camp gets underway is the return of students to campus. Missouri’s first day of classes is Aug. 24, the first day of camp’s second week. Students have already started moving into campus dorms.
The team has kept a positive COVID-19 case rate of under 3%, according to head coach Eli Drinkwitz, but the team will have more contact with the outside world once classes get going.
“I mean, you know, if guys on the team think that going to house parties and going to bars is more important than the season, then there will probably be a spike in cases,” wide receiver Barrett Bannister said. “But if we all do what we’re supposed to do and do our job, I think we can keep it how it’s been and keep under control.”