COLUMBIA — In the days leading up to national signing day, Missouri's recruiting class took a major hit.
The Tigers lost two of their top recruits in a matter of days and only had one commitment from the state of Missouri. Yet, when signing day came around, coaches and players alike remained ecstatic about the recruiting class coming to Columbia.
"I'm really happy with what our staff did on evaluating," coach Barry Odom said. "I think we hit on some needs that I think will help us on day one."
Much of Odom's recruiting was focused on finding the size needed to play in the Southeastern Conference.
"I wanted to get bigger physically," Odom said. "You go through warm-ups and you're comparing the way guys look and we didn't look right."
If there is a defining characteristic about Missouri's class, it is the size Odom was looking for. Out of Missouri's 25 recruits, 12 play on the offensive or defensive line. Six of those linemen weigh over 300 pounds, according to the team media guide.
One player whose size Odom highlighted was linebacker Jamal Brooks. Despite being listed at 227 pounds, Odom believes the linebacker is closer to 250 pounds.
The size Brooks provides is only part of what caught coaches' eyes. In what Odom said is a closely knit class, Brooks immediately assumed a leadership role among his fellow commits and even worked on bringing other recruits to Columbia.
"He’s kind of the glue of the recruiting class for us, in all the coaches' opinions, and I think all of the other recruits would agree with that," defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. "It makes a world of difference for us knowing that we’re not only getting a really good player with some leadership qualities but a guy who cares.”
Despite praises from his coaches, Brooks is hesitant to call himself a leader. He is just committed to expanding and helping what he calls a "brotherhood."
"I just feel like it’s important to do what is asked of me," Brooks said. "I was asked to build the class and I guess I’m just the most vocal out of everyone."
Throughout the process, the Missouri commits would talk to each other daily, according to Brooks. One player he hit it off with was long-time Missouri recruit Da'Ron Davis.
Davis, who will play wide receiver at Missouri, was recruited by the Tigers starting in his sophomore year of high school. He is one of Missouri's highest ranked prospects according to 247sports.com.
Despite being raw at the position, coaches are hopeful that a few practices can turn him from a highly-ranked recruit to a highly-ranked player.
"He’s got a ton of upside," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Just refining himself as a wide receiver, getting off man-press coverage and learning how to use his body will take his game to the next level."
It was the relationships they had built that made the losses of longtime Missouri recruit Jafar Armstrong and relatively new commit Elijah Gardiner so much harder to take.
"The one decommit that really hurt me was my best friend Jafar," Davis said. "That really hurt. Me and him would talk about how we were going to play together."
Despite the losses, the recruits remained unfazed heading into signing day. Behind Odom's goal of having players who were 100 percent committed to Missouri, the class of 2017 remained steadfast in their vision.
"We can win with you or win without you," Brooks said. "They chose that they wanted to go somewhere else so that’s on them.”
Missouri was able to counter its losses with a few 11th hour pickups of its own. In the week leading up to signing day, Missouri picked up quarterback Taylor Powell and wide receiver O'shae Clark.
The addition of Powell was a result of Odom being badgered by Heupel about the quarterback's talent.
"I delayed a little bit on that decision and I should have listened to the staff a little earlier in the recruiting process," Odom said. "You go back and look at all of the qualities he possesses, that is exactly what I want in a quarterback."
Clark was found in the hours leading up to signing day. Coaches said it only took 36 hours between the initial phone call and the commitment.
"We kind of pushed things back late too because you don’t want anyone else coming in on a guy that you’re going to go on late," Heupel said.
When all of the recruiting was finalized and signatures were faxed to Columbia, support from fans as well as former players poured in on the signees. Brooks received encouraging words from former Missouri linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Donavin Newsom. The signees, in turn, want to do everything in their power to make those who came before them proud.
"We’re trying to win some championships and turn this program around," Davis said. "Not just for our class but for everybody.”
Supervising editor is Jonathan McKay.