Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Tigers began fall football camp Thursday with a Citrus Bowl trophy, an 11-win season and a second straight Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title behind them.
But the Tigers were more concerned with what lies ahead.
“Today was the day that we burnt our boat,” senior center Evan Boehm said. “There’s no looking back. There’s no taking a step back, it’s either we’re going out there and we’re succeeding or we’re going to die trying.”
“Burn your boats” is the team’s motto for the 2015 season, a phrase Boehm said came from an impassioned speech by defensive lineman Harold Brantley before Missouri’s win at Texas A&M last year.
“As he was saying it, the offense and defense were kind of right next to each other, and everybody was like listening in on the offense and people are taking their headphones off to sit there and listen to him,” Boehm said. “… It was one of the most inspirational pump-up pregame speeches that you’ve ever heard. Just, chills. Everybody was just sitting there looking at there arms” for goosebumps.
Boehm said Brantley told the story of an invader who sailed off to an enemy’s land for battle. When the force arrived at the enemy port, its chief commanded everyone to burn their boats.
“He goes, ‘There’s no going back. We’re either winning this or we’re going to die,’” Boehm said. “I can’t tell it like Harold tells it … He had everybody in the locker room’s attention. Even the coaches were standing there against the wall looking at him.”
Rather than enemy forces, Missouri is preparing to fending off SEC East opponents who hope to prevent the Tigers from taking their third division title in four seasons as a member of the conference. Picked by the media to finish third in its division, the familiar mantra of fighting for respect might have been an obvious motivator for Missouri. Instead, the Tigers say the goal is simply to take the next step.
“We’re not really fighting for respect,” senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers said. “We just always get to the SEC Championship, but we don’t win. We just need to actually win it this year. I mean, it’s something that, it’s important to us. I mean, we really want to win it. The last two years have been disappointing, and it’s hurt.”
Missouri’s no-looking-back doctrine — a tad heavier than last year’s short-lived “Beards and Mullets” theme — took on more significance in June when Brantley sustained season-ending injuries in a car accident on U.S. 63. However, Boehm said the rallying cry didn’t change.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Do it for Harold,’” Boehm said. “But I mean, if you’re not already doing it for your brothers, then why are you doing it?”
Boehm was named one of the team’s four captains Thursday, as voted by players who have been with the team since at least the spring. Tailback Russell Hansbrough, safety Ian Simon and cornerback Kenya Dennis were the others selected.
Dennis has played just one season with Missouri. The Leland, Miss., native transferred from Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss., in 2014. He earned a starting spot and had 61 tackles — 48 solo — and nine pass breakups last season.
“I was very surprised,” Dennis said of being voted captain. “I haven’t been here. A lot of these guys don’t even know me, so, like I said, it just shows how much I mean to these guys, and I respect it.”
As a JUCO transfer-turned-captain, Dennis follows in the footsteps of Markus Golden, who progressed from Hutchinson Community College to a second-team All-SEC nod at Missouri last season to a second-round selection by the Arizona Cardinals in May. As a softspoken leader, Dennis is also somewhat of a successor to safety Braylon Webb, who was a defensive captain alongside Golden last year despite not having the most outgoing personality. Dennis said he and Hansbrough have similar lead-by-example personalities.
“We’ve never really been vocal guys,” Dennis said. “Guys just see us come out and give it our all. It’ll make the other guys give their all, too. Like I said, we’re not very vocal, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to say anything. We’re definitely going to say something to the guys when the games get heated and everything, but we’re going to try to lead by example.”
On the flip side, Boehm and Simon are expected to do more of the talking.
“Evan and Ian, they’ve been talking since they were freshmen, being leaders,” Hansbrough said. “So they were pretty much just born into being leaders and stuff like that, which is a blessing to have on this team.”
Missouri’s camp runs until Aug. 27, when the Tigers hold their final scrimmage. The season begins Sept. 5 at home against Southeast Missouri.
Notes: A new depth chart was released Thursday. Redshirt freshman DeSean Blair usurped sophomore J’Mon Moore for the top X receiver spot. Junior defensive lineman Josh Augusta moved from backup nose guard to starting defensive tackle. Junior Tyler Hanneke shifted from fourth-string defensive tackle to backup nose guard. Five true freshmen were listed on the roster, including Drew Lock at sixth-string quarterback. High-profile East St. Louis (Ill.) recruit Terry Beckner Jr. was not listed on the depth chart. He was previously listed as the third-string defensive tackle. … Pinkel said there was a chance junior-college transfer Tyler Howell might be able to join the team at a later semester. Howell was academically ineligble to join the Tigers in the fall. … In addition to the naming of the captains, the more pressing question of which song would accompany the Tigers’ return to the field was also answered Thursday. Mase’s “Welcome Back” kicked off Missouri’s camp, followed by Wiz Khalifa’s “Work Hard, Play Hard,” Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard” remix, James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”