Daniel Shular/Missourian

Missouri WR Barrett Banister runs after the catch during the Tigers matchup with the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday. Banister recorded his first career touchdown with the Tigers against West Virginia, where he tallied two catches.

When the No. 11 jersey became available this offseason, Missouri receiver Barrett Banister saw no choice but to take advantage.

With the departure of tight end Kendall Blanton to the NFL, Banister had the opportunity to wear the same number as his favorite NFL player — Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, last season’s Super Bowl MVP.

He’s a receiver who plays with a swagger that Banister, a Patriots fan, said he would like to emulate.

“He’s not the biggest or the fastest guy out there, but he leads with his spirit and his toughness on the field,” Banister said. “He will take big hit after big hit and make tough catches. That’s stuff I want to replicate in my game. I want to be a guy who can come up with a big catch on third down.”

So far in his time at Missouri, Banister has shown he can.

He doesn’t receive the most playing time of Missouri’s receivers, but when the redshirt sophomore enters the game, it almost always coincides with a meaningful moment, and Banister often finds himself in the middle of it.

Banister often finds his way onto the field during third downs, red zone opportunities and goal-to-go situations. The Tigers have shown confidence in all scenarios.

The former walk-on has shown an ability on the football field and in other avenues of life to thrive in competitive environments when the stakes are high.

Moments like those are what Banister welcomes and they’re when he is at his best.

“He was never afraid of the moment,” his father, Brian Banister, said. “He wanted to be the guy that was in the middle of things.”

Banister is the guy who wanted badly to be the first of his Kindergarten classmates to be able to write to 100 in a contest. The guy who, as an 8-year-old pitcher, wanted opportunities to enter games and pitch when the team was in a jam. The guy who won a state championship in a free-throw contest in elementary school.

“He always has had a calmness,” Brian said.

However, no pressure situation has matched that of Banister’s decision to walk on at Missouri.

It wasn’t a route he expected to have to take when he received his first walk-on offer from Auburn as a sophomore. He and his family thought this would be the first step to Division I, FBS scholarship offers.

The Division II scholarship offers came but never that FBS offer that Banister so desired.

Division II and FCS offers weren’t going to fit Banister. That much became clear to Brian as they were walking around for a tour of an FCS school.

Banister told his father he didn’t want to play at a school like this one. He wanted to chase his FBS dream.

That place became Missouri in part thanks to quarterback Taylor Powell, his high school teammate in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Powell, whom the Tigers were recruiting, mentioned the name of his friend to Missouri coach Barry Odom. He liked Banister’s film and decided to offer him a spot as a preferred walk-on.

The Division I dream lived, but Banister was far from living the life of a Division I player on scholarship.

Banister only contributed on the scout team his first year — 2017. The next summer was anything but relaxing, either. While taking summer classes and completing offseason workouts, Banister needed a job to try and get in-state tuition. Scholarship athletes don’t need to worry about in-state vs. out-of-state tuition costs, but Banister was not a scholarship athlete.

So, he became a nanny. For three boys.

“I didn’t know he could make a sandwich for himself, much less for three boys,” his mother, Holly Banister, said.

While he worked, he put himself in a position to be ready for playing time the next season. In 2018, he finally saw the field.

Banister caught his first collegiate pass for 18 yards against South Carolina. He finished the year with eight receptions for 88 yards. By the end of the season, he was not only playing but making crucial third-down plays. Still no scholarship, though.

That changed in January 2019.

On his way back from attending the Chiefs-Patriots AFC championship game, Banister received a message from Odom. He wanted to meet with Banister as soon as he could.

Banister was worried but there was no need. Odom told him in person he was on scholarship.

The only thing that has drastically changed since then is Banister doesn’t have to be a nanny anymore. Although, those three boys are now proud members of the Barrett Banister fan club.

“Those little boys really like him,” Holly said.

No longer a nanny, Banister is instead busy gaining more trust from his teammates and coaches as he proves to be even more consistent and reliable.

He extended his catch streak to five consecutive games when he caught two passes against West Virginia. He’s worked with two different quarterbacks over that span — Drew Lock last season and now Kelly Bryant. With five receptions this season, Banister is tied for fourth on the team in catches with star tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. And Missouri continues to show trust in him in big moments. Against Wyoming, he played during six third downs and five of the 15 goal-to-go snaps.

And Banister’s not just a body. Bryant, who transferred to Missouri this offseason, has looked to him during significant moments already early in the season.

With a defensive back close in coverage on Banister against Wyoming, Bryant tried to hit his receiver for the long gain. Banister couldn’t quite bring the difficult grab down, but it showed the faith Bryant had in him to make the snag. Later in the game, Bryant looked to Banister in the end zone while he was double-covered.

Bryant said Banister’s camp body of work is why the receiver earned his trust so quickly.

“He is very smooth with his route running,” Bryant said. “Just getting in and out of routes and finding holes in the defense.”

That skill set earned Banister the nickname “field mouse” among the receivers.

“He’s always racking up yards on the field,” receiver Johnathon Johnson said. “He is always working the field. He knows how to get open. He can always catch the ball. He is just a very good slot receiver. A very consistent player.”

Field mouse knew how to get open against West Virginia in the end zone this past Saturday.

The Tigers had a third and goal from the three with about 30 seconds left in the first half, so the coaches decided to send in Banister. Moments later, Bryant rolls to the right as the end zone becomes cluttered. He has one receiver toward the back of the end zone and one up front — Banister.

Banister finds a gap, Bryant fires the ball. Touchdown Tigers.

The first for Banister as a collegiate receiver.

“That was a lot of fun,” Banister said. “It is something I will remember forever.”Just seconds before, he was standing on the sideline, watching, and waiting for the coaches to call his No. 11. Ready for when they needed him. Ready, as always, for the moment.

Eager to prove that no moment is too big for the small receiver.

  • Nick Kelly is a Missouri football reporter for the Columbia Missourian. A native of Minneapolis, Minn., he is studying magazine writing and business. Previously, he covered sports for The Boston Globe, Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic.

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