COLUMBIA — Before Missouri took the field against Florida last Saturday, left guard Evan Boehm allowed himself to feel like a freshman, if just for a little bit.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Boehm, who has started every game in his first college season, was talking to sophomore center Mitch Morse on the sidelines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when he heard the crowd belt its Go Gators chant, which Boehm instantly recognized from the “NCAA Football” video game.
“I thought that was just in the game,” Boehm said with a laugh. “Then all of a sudden you’re sitting on the bench and you actually hear that, and it’s like ‘Wow, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we have.’ You just have to run with it.”
There’s little doubt that Boehm has done just that. He is the rarest of breeds in the Southeastern Conference, a true freshman offensive lineman who is smart, strong and talented enough to start immediately against some of the nation’s most talented defensive fronts.
Provided he starts Saturday at Tennessee, Boehm will be the only Missouri offensive lineman to start all 10 games this season. Considering coach Gary Pinkel had never started a true freshman on the O-line during his 12-year tenure at Missouri, that pretty much speaks to Boehm’s impact.
“Heck,” co-offensive line coach Josh Henson said, “he’s our veteran now.”
Laughs aside, there’s a small amount of truth to this. Boehm has been one of the few steady presences on a line that has seen seven players injured since the start of the season. He says both Henson and Bruce Walker, MU’s other co-offensive line coach, told him he was no longer a freshman after the Tigers’ 62-10 season-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana.
“That’s one of the things that have helped me improve,” Boehm said. “But I wasn’t going to be like ‘Hey Coach, I’m a freshman, that’s why I missed this block.’ That’s not the mentality I have.”
Boehm has little time for excuses, which Henson says shows maturity.
“He’s done a great job of not letting it mentally wear him out,” Henson said. “One of the transitions (to college football) is that you get beat more than you did in high school, so you’re dealing with failure more.”
Boehm has battled star players such as Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Georgia’s John Jenkins and South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney this season.
“These guys are big, fast, quick … it’s a lot of fun going up against players that are potentially first-round draft picks,” Boehm said. “Those players are phenomenal and it really helps you see where you are.”
Boehm is hesitant, however, to give an assessment of where he stands in comparison to those players, who are all expected to play in the NFL. He knows he still has plenty of things to work on, a mindset that has only been reinforced by Walker and Henson.
“I prefer that,” Boehm said. “I’ve still got a lot to work on and I can’t be comfortable with what I have, what I’ve got.”
But there are still some moments, like Saturday’s game at “The Swamp,” where Boehm can look around and embrace the fact that he is living the dream.
“If you would have told me before I came down here that I would be the only one to start 10 games on the offensive line, I would have laughed in your face,” Boehm said. “It’s so surreal what’s happening to me right now. You just try to go and seize the moment each play, each practice, every film session.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.