The acrobatic freshman was on the most secluded of three practice fields, the lower one farthest from the Missouri Athletic Training Center, when he first tried to meet his apparent daily quota on Wednesday.
Fortunately for Maurice Massey, he was safely hidden from TV cameras there, because this time his one-handed catch attempt ended in a dropped pass.
Receivers coach Garrick McGee, who had thrown the pass during a fade route drill for the position group, called across the field, “Oh, everything’s gotta be a one-handed catch for Twitter!”
McGee pulled Massey aside, told him to use two hands, then sent him back to the front of the line to repeat the exercise.
“He was making sure you gotta stay humble,” Massey said. “Humble yourself. You gotta know catching the ball is your first priority, one or two hands. Make sure you secure the ball with a catch. You need that type of coaching.”
Massey more so than others, and he’s embracing it. The freshman receiver’s sheer athleticism has caught the eyes of coaches, teammates and TV cameras since the start of preseason camp. He seems to make a physics-defying one-handed catch every time someone’s watching. Sometimes, he admits, he needs to be reminded to add a second hand.
Massey made a twisting catch in midair around a defender for a big gain during Missouri’s scrimmage last Saturday. He pulled in a one-handed touchdown with the whole team watching during a red zone drill two days later. That one made the rounds on Twitter. “And then,” he said smirking, even after his drop on Wednesday, “I made a one-handed catch in 1-on-1s.”
Massey is behind a few wideouts on the Tigers depth chart, most notably Jonathan Nance, Jalen Knox and Kam Scott. Missouri coach Barry Odom said Thursday that the team plans to play most of its freshmen within the four games allowed before players lose redshirt status, but Massey seems likely to be used beyond that limit.
“I want him to go ahead and let loose and play. When you have a lot of skills and talent, you definitely don’t want to limit the kid,” McGee said. “We’re really fortunate to have him, and for him to be so young, we’re just going to try develop him into a star in this league.”
McGee saw a star in Massey as early as 2016, when McGee was the offensive coordinator at Illinois. He offered the receiver a scholarship when Massey was just a freshman in high school.
“I recruited him really hard,” McGee said. “It was obvious that he was going to be a talent when he was in the ninth grade, that he was going to be a potential big time player.”
By the time Massey committed in August 2018, he had transferred high schools within the St. Louis area from Francis Howell North to Kirkwood, and McGee was an offensive analyst at Missouri. Massey’s commitment video teased at both Illinois and Missouri, ending with him pulling a Mizzou shirt out of an Illini backpack.
His high school transfer to Kirkwood, which happened November of his junior year, may have given Missouri a boost in recruiting. Massey got to meet former Kirkwood and Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin before his senior season, getting a chance to work out with and get advice from the NFL Pro Bowler.
“Having someone who’s been through Mizzou, who’s been to the highest level, who’s performed, he was able to teach me things,” Massey said. “Help me with things and let me know things to do and not to do at this young age, so when I get there I can be as good as him.
“He’s been through what I’m trying to go through.”
Massey was one of the last players to arrive on campus before fall camp, but the quickness with which he’s made himself noticed has impressed his older teammates.
“Coming in on this short of notice, he’s just now getting here and he’s already making plays like that,” Knox said. “It looks like he’s been here.”
But Massey says he has still felt some culture shock resulting from the speed of the college game. And he came to the humbling realization after a few days of practice that, unlike in high school, all of the players are worthy athletes, not just some of them.
Massey’s “second nature” still takes over sometimes — he’ll occasionally go for the flashy one-handed catch when he can make it much easier for himself with two — but welcoming McGee’s guidance is helping him remember that he’s not in high school anymore.
“He’s just learning how to play the college game and how important all the details are,” McGee said. “What it’s like to have to focus and concentrate snap in and snap out. Being a good football player is really important to him. He’s just a very talented kid.”
Supervising editor is Melanie Rau.