Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Alec Abeln didn’t exactly have time to stop and smell the roses.
One half into his first collegiate start, Abeln was asked to move from left guard — a position he had just started working with weeks before — to center — the spot he spent most of fall camp as the backup.
When Evan Boehm suffered an ankle sprain and did not return for the second half of Missouri’s season-opening win against Southeast Missouri State, Abeln shifted over to replace the senior center and team captain.
“It’s probably good that I played so much center during camp,” Abeln said. “Because it might’ve been a little bit harder to move over had I been at guard all camp. It felt pretty good, though.”
After earning the starting spot at left guard just over a week before the first game, the sophomore was not expecting to spend his debut moving along the offensive line.
“It’s tough,” Boehm said of Abeln’s situation. “But he’s a smart kid, he’s a good kid, he’s a good worker, and he knows the whole offensive line.”
Mistakes were made, as Boehm, head coach Gary Pinkel and offensive line coach A.J. Ricker all acknowledged, but Abeln was the first to admit it.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “I can definitely improve on a lot of things. I think a lot of it came from just over-thinking things, where if I would have just stayed with my assignment or stayed with the slide, it would have taken care of itself. Obviously, there’s a couple plays that I’d want back, but it’s done now.”
Ricker added: “He’s harder on himself, so obviously he’s not a guy that (you have to tell), ‘Hey, Alec, you got beat,’ and sit there and rip (him apart). He’s already beating himself up over it. And he got it corrected and from then on he played better. But I think from a confidence standpoint, the more he plays, they better he’s going to be, obviously, and just staying positive with him, because he is going to be a darn good football player.”
A bit undersized at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Abeln can’t rely on physical mass to make up for mistakes.
“He does have long arms, even though he’s not super tall, but a guy like that has got to be a great technician,” Ricker said.
“I guarantee, his body doesn’t show it,” Boehm added, “but if you needed a tackle, he’d probably go out there and know the assignments of a tackle, too.”
Boehm is listed as questionable for Missouri’s game Saturday at Arkansas State, though he said he expects to return. Abeln is taking snaps at both positions this week to be safe.
If he is expected to start at center, Abeln will have plenty of help. He said Boehm provided him with tips on how SEMO was playing Saturday that might not have come up in film study. Plus, Ricker is a former Missouri center himself.
“As far as being a center here,” Abeln said, “you’ve got a lot of help and a lot of guys who can really provide some good information to you.”