Brendan Scales’ college football career has not at all been what he envisioned coming out of high school, but he wouldn’t change a thing. To him, waiting can be worth it.
Scales, a third-string tight end, unexpectedly found himself circled by reporters and answering questions after Missouri’s no-pads practice Monday morning at Faurot Field. He was the next man up.
The Tigers’ starting tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam, has All-SEC and NFL draft potential, but he has been unable to avoid various forms of injury for much of the last calendar year. He was back in a red no-contact jersey Monday, sitting out the practice. His backup, Daniel Parker, is a more-than-proficient blocker, but he was also in red.
MU coach Barry Odom wouldn’t specify what the current injuries are for either of his top tight ends, though he seemed unalarmed and discussed them as minor hiccups. But when asked what Okwuegbunam is dealing with, he joked, “Let’s see, I’m starting from head to toe.”
There’s something to that. Odom is confident the two tight ends will be healthy soon, but the sheer frequency of bumps and bruises to both — Okwuegbunam missed several games last season plus spring camp, and Parker had shoulder surgery in the spring — makes it an obligation to consider the possibility that Missouri might need to have the backup’s backup game-ready at some point.
Scales doesn’t have the obvious talent of Okwuegbunam or Parker, but he does has some limited playing experience. The redshirt junior also seems to have surpassed Messiah Swinson on the depth chart. Scales appeared in eight games last year as a common fill-in for snaps here and there. But he has only one career reception for 1 yard, last season against Kentucky.
For the most part, Scales has bided his time in the background for three years since arriving at MU with a youthful ego.
Out of Lafayette High School in St. Louis, he was a consensus top-20 tight end in in the country and one of the top overall prospects in the state’s 2016 class.
He had offers from a list of schools that included Alabama.
“Most freshmen come in thinking they’re going to play right away, and so did I,” Scales said. “It was tough at first, not being able to play when I thought I could play.”
Waiting, though, has made Scales wise beyond his years.
“It’s patience, it’s frustration, it’s all of that,” he said. “I learned a lot from the older guys just being patient and watching from the sideline, learned a lot about the game. It did suck, just like anything else where you want to do it. But I’m glad I waited.”
Scales is still figuring out his identity as a tight end. Many tend to be stronger at one of the two roles required of the position — receiving and blocking — but Scales doesn’t like to look at it that way. While Okwuegbunam has a reputation as a downfield receiving threat and Parker acts more as an extra lineman, Scales hopes he can bring a healthy balance of both if called upon.
“I don’t really know where to place myself right now. That’s up to Coach,” he said. “I can see myself doing both equally well. Daniel’s more of a blocker, Albert’s more of a catcher, and I’m somewhere right in the middle of there.”
If Scales were needed to play more in the case of injuries to both Okwuegbunam and Parker, his role likely would be less dynamic than that of the other two. It would be a less-than-ideal scenario for the Tigers, given their comfort with Scales’ current status as a small-role player, but the veteran’s patience certainly has been virtuous. He’s had plenty of time to study from the sidelines.
Odom said Okwuegbunam would “maybe” be back to practicing Tuesday in a limited role, which would slowly grow from there. If there turns out to be a continuing problem with repeat injuries to Missouri’s two best tight ends, though, Scales is patiently waiting next in line.
“I wanted to be here,” Scales said. “I love this school, so there was nowhere else I wanted to be.”
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.