COLUMBIA | There’s really no break in the world of football recruiting. Just one week after pulling in a class that includes the No. 1 player in the nation – you know who – Missouri’s coaching staff was right back at it again Saturday, as the Tigers got a jump start on the Class of 2013.
That's right. A score of junior prospects were at Mizzou Arena to witness the fourth-ranked men's basketball team trounce No. 6 Baylor, and from that group, the Tigers offered and quickly received commitments from Jefferson City linebacker Joe Burkett (6-3, 200) and Christian Brothers College High School athlete Aarion Maxey-Penton (5-9, 180).
If those names sound familiar to you, you are not alone. They sure seemed familiar to me, and I quickly realized why; both played in high-profile games against local schools last season. Burkett suited up in Jefferson City's win over previously undefeated Rockhurst on Oct. 7, while Maxey-Penton (soon to be just Penton, I'm told, because he's legally changing his name) was terrific against Blue Springs South in the Missouri Class 6 state championship game on Nov. 26.
I spoke the coaches of both players on Saturday, but let's start with Maxey-Penton, a kid I've actually seen play. As a wide receiver, I saw him torture a terrific Blue Springs South defense - shout out to safety Connor Harris and defensive end Levi Riley - to the tune of five catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns. I remember watching him shred the Jaguars and actually saying to myself, "holy (expletive), that kid is fast."
My eyes weren't deceiving me, it turns out. Maxey-Penton does have wheels. CBC coach Scott Pingel told me he ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash before last season began. He also has great ball skills; check out this touchdown catch he made in the state championship game. He finished his junior season – his first on varsity – with 40 catches for 842 yards (that’s a whopping 21 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 27 times for 302 yards and four touchdowns, and added a return touchdown, to boot.
But for all his explosiveness, it appears Maxey-Penton's future lies on defense. Pingel said his star athlete wants to, and probably will, play cornerback at Missouri. He had 51 tackles and two interceptions for CBC last season, and was named to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's all-metro team as a defensive back.
"He gave up one touchdown in our very first game of the season," Pingel said, "but after that, I don't think he gave up another. Lots of times, receivers just weren't open on his side. When we played him at corner, we put him there and knew we didn’t have to worry about that outside receiver.”
Here’s another thing Missouri fans should like: Maxey-Penton is still growing. Pingel said he weighs about 180 pounds now and stands about 5-10 with a 6-2 wingspan.
“He’s a great, fun-loving kid,” Pingel said. “He’s the point guard on the basketball team and he’s like the energizer bunny, flying all over the court. You’re gonna see a high energy, high motor who is a great tackler and never gets tired.”
Maxey-Penton did not have any other offers, though Pingel said Ball State was probably on the verge of doing so. He was recruited by safeties coach Cornell Ford, who is in charge of scouring the St. Louis area for talent.
Pingel said Maxey-Penton is the first kid the program has sent to Missouri in his seven years at the school.
“Missouri, they were really the first ones to offer,” Pingel said. “I would be shocked if he went anywhere else now. He’s been wanting Mizzou, his dad has been wanting Mizzou, and with his family ties in St. Louis, I’d be surprised if he went anywhere else.”
That’s something, it appears, that Maxey-Penton has in common with Burkett, his soon-to-be teammate. Jefferson City coach Ted LePage said Burkett has been going to Missouri games with his dad and grandfather practically his whole life.
“His dad had season tickets for years,” LePage said. “I know when they offered him (Saturday), it took their breath away. They talked about it for a little and 15 minutes later, Joey said ‘Dad, I want to be a Tiger.’”
LePage said Burkett will be the first player from his school to go to Missouri since Travis Ruth, a junior who will return to start at center next season. His lead recruiter was receiver coach Andy Hill – who is also the Tigers’ main liaison in Kansas City – though defensive coordinator Dave Steckel chipped in.
“He’s just as athletic a young man as there is,” LePage said. “He runs well, and he has explosion.”
Burkett is a good athlete, alright. LePage said he runs the 40-yard dash in about 4.6 seconds, and is one of the top pole vaulters in the state – be sure to check this out – and, LePage adds, also has experience in another relatively unique background for a football player.
“Joe grew up as a gymnast,” LePage said. “His dad runs a gymnastics gym, so he can do just about anything physically. Handsprings, backflips…his upper body strength in the weight room is good but his physical skills are so advanced. Once he grabs you, he has such a strong grip that you’re not getting out of his tackle.”
LePage didn’t have Burkett’s junior season stats in front of him, but estimated that he finished with about 90 tackles and had two interceptions and three blocked kicks while playing linebacker at about 200 pounds.
“He can carry more weight,” LePage said. “He’s probably a tweener at outside linebacker and safety, which makes him valuable because he can cover ground quickly and play in space.”