Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The start time for Missouri football’s 12th annual Fan Appreciation Day was bumped up 45 minutes due to threat of thunderstorms, but when the event began at 3 p.m., the only thing smearing autographs was perspiration.
“It was a weight-loss experience, with how much sweat left my back,” said Maggie Hellebusch, a fan from Washington.
The Hellebusch family attends every year, but for freshman quarterback Marvin Zanders, Sunday was his first taste of Fan Appreciation Day.
“It’s just nice to see everybody who comes out and supports us,” he said, “and it just makes us want to work that much harder to make these fans happy and be able to brag about the Missouri Tigers.”
Hellebusch’s husband, Nick, said the players always make the experience enjoyable.
“The kids enjoy getting autographs from the players, mingling with them and getting to see the coaches,” Nick Hellebusch said. “They couldn’t be more friendly. That’s the thing that always amazed me, how pleasant they are.
“They thank us. We’re thanking them, and they’re thanking us for coming.”
Besides, as Maggie Hellebusch added, “We only had to stand here one afternoon sweating. They’ve stayed out here sweating a lot of afternoons.”
NEW MAN IN CHARGE: After starting four games in place of injured quarterback James Franklin last year, Maty Mauk has the position all to his own this season.
“I’m ready to go,” said Mauk, a redshirt sophomore. “Obviously, expectations are high, and that’s what we want. I know the guy are rallied up behind me and learning how to press forward right now and getting better every day. That’s the big thing for us, and we’re going to continue to do it.”
Mauk was one of the most coveted autographs of the day, and got some jeering when he was led to the locker room by a team employee when the day ended.
“I remember when I needed a bodyguard,” one teammate jeered.
Zanders sits behind Corbin Berkstresser and Eddie Printz, who are competing to back up Mauk. The Jacksonville, Fla., recruit said Mauk has looked good in Missouri’s first week of practice.
“He’s just getting better,” Zanders said. “I think he’s learning, and we’re all learning. We’re all just working on quick feet, getting the ball, moving our reads, and I think he’s doing a good job of that.”
He said he can learn a lot from Mauk, who threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
“I just want to be a sponge, and I just try to hang around Maty as much as I can and pick his brain,” he said. “‘Hey man, what would you do here? What would you do there?’ And really just learning how he sees the game and try to just put that in my game.”
Mauk is the latest in a string of Missouri quarterbacks — Brad Smith to Chase Daniel to Blaine Gabbert to Franklin — who have taken over as planned from a successful forerunner.
Zanders said that heritage drew him to Missouri.
“Gary Pinkel does a great job of putting out some of the best quarterbacks, and I thought, if I come here, he can mold me into a great one, too,” he said. “That was my reason behind coming here.”
FRESH FACES IN THE TRENCHES: Missouri has a lot of turnover from the team that won the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. On defense, graduation shook up the depth chart at lineman. Starting ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam were drafted, so Markus Golden and Shane Ray are moving up to take the starting spot.
“I don’t think they’re filling (Ealy’s and Sam’s) roles,” redshirt freshman Marcus Loud said. “I think they’re creating their own ways. … They’re gonna feed off of last year. They’re gonna be great, as they should be.”
Loud is expected to step up as well. Pinkel has named him as a youngster who will help with the loss of key defensive linemen. Loud believes he’s a good fit.
“As far as the big shoes to fill, I don’t really think they’re really too big for me,” he said. “Because I’m coming right behind a really great guy, Markus Golden and Shane Ray on the other side. Me and Charles (Harris), we pound it like two bookends, but we fill the shoes pretty nicely.”
Loud is eager to get playing time after redshirting during the Tigers’ successful 2013 season.
“At first, it was heartbreaking, just the fact that I was not going to be out there and be able to play, but then once I finally got my head wrapped around it and everything, it all just slowly balanced out,” he said. “I just became a great teammate, and it opened up my eyes to know that you don’t always have to be on the field to encourage and to show how much the game means to you.”
Fellow defensive lineman A.J. Logan, a Rock Bridge High School alum, went through the process with Loud.
“We feel like the stuff we did in high school was great and all, but now we have a bigger platform to step onto,” Loud said. “So, being redshirted really paid off for us. We’ve just got to step up and show what we learned and what we can do.”
Like the quarterback position, Missouri has consistently produced quality talent on the defensive line. Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Sheldon Richardson advanced from the Missouri defensive line to the NFL.
“Being from Texas, I really didn’t know too much about the defensive line or the history about it,” Loud said. “But when I got here, I knew most of the guys that had left, and I was like, ‘Oh, I never knew they came here.’ And it opened up my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to be a top-rated player to come out. Just go somewhere, do what you’ve got to do, take care of business academically, be a good person socially and everything else, and you’ll be able to meet the platform, you just step to that platform, and your name will be called across that stage.”
HOMETOWN BOY: Another player itching to take the field after redshirting his freshman year is Jefferson City High School grad Joe Burkett. He also had to try to maximize his role without being able to take the field.
“I just tried to do everything I could on scout team, and that’s, I mean, it’s a little part, but I did everything I could to try and make the team better every week,” said Burkett, a linebacker. “We learned the defense that we were playing for our offense.”
This season Burkett will get his first real taste of SEC speed.
“(Am I) starting to get used to it? Yeah. But is it still faster than anything else? Yes. It’s crazy fast, but it’s slowed down from last year,” he said.
He’s still in the process of working for his roster spot, which he said is indefinite at the moment.
“It will change 10 times before the end of next week, so I mean, I’m just going to work as hard as I can and study as much film and see where it lands me,” he said.
CHANGING PLACES: While departed defensive linemen have left the Tigers with spots to reassign, the receivers can surely give them a run for their money.
Levi Copelin recently received a season-long suspension for using a prohibited substance, which he said he bought over the counter. This was the latest blow to a receiving corps that already lost big targets Dorial Green-Beckham, who was kicked off the team, and L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, who graduated.
To adjust for the losses, the Tigers are trying out tailback and return man Marcus Murphy at wide receiver. Luckily for Missouri, they have more depth at tailback.
“We’ve got a lot of backs,” Murphy said. “We just have a lot of playmakers on offense, so we just try to use that to our advantage.”
Murphy said the experiment has produced positive results so far.
“It’s going good,” he said. “We’ve been in it a week. I’ve learned a lot in the last week. Coach told me I’m doing good, so I’m going to just try to keep it up.”
Where Murphy will line up come game time still is to be decided.
“I think it’s still up in the air right now,” Murphy said. “We’re just going through camp trying to see how it’s going to go. I might get some reps at running back. I might be a receiver. I don’t know.”
Missouri’s 2013 all-purpose yardage leader said he didn’t expect to be entering his senior season working on a different position.
“No I didn’t know, but it’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m just taking it how I can take it.”