March 12, 2008

Powered Up: Filling the void

Turnover is a simple fact of life in college football. Every year, pretty much every coach in the country is going to lose at least a dozen players from his roster. Chances are, at least half those players are likely to be starters. So as far as turnover goes, the Missouri Tigers are actually in pretty good shape entering 2008. Mizzou opened spring football yesterday with 17 of a possible 23 starters returning, including ten of 11 on the defensive side of the ball.

But what Missouri must replace this year has less to do with the talent on the football field than the personalities off of it. Gone from last year's 12-and-2 Cotton Bowl team are Martin Rucker, Lorenzo Williams, Pig Brown and Will Franklin.

I'm not trying to downplay the talent of these four on the field. It was immense. Rucker holds all kinds of receiving records at Mizzou. Brown might have been the best safety in America before he got hurt. Franklin has a chance to be selected on the first day of the NFL draft. Williams started for three seasons and was a second-team all-Big 12 defensive tackle. They had talent.

But more than talent, they were leaders. They were the guys that made other players want to play for them. Williams threatened to burn his teammates' houses if they didn't go undefeated this year. Brown became known as Coach after tearing his Achilles. Franklin gave up the personal glory of stats and recognition as a senior to block his butt off and help carry the Tigers to 12 wins. Rucker, well, if you watched him play a single snap last year, there may have never been a more demonstrative leader by example in the history of the Tiger program.

How do you replace that? It's question number one facing the Tigers this spring.

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