COLUMBIA — After starting all 13 games at left tackle as a sophomore in 2011, it’s safe to say Missouri senior Justin Britt didn’t see the 2012 season unfolding for him the way it did.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
“You see someone go down with an ACL or something like that and you say no, that will never happen to me - I’ve never had an injury in my life,” Britt said. “And then I have two surgeries in one year, so it can happen.”
The first came last summer, when Britt opened preseason camp in a boot due to a foot fracture he suffered during conditioning. He returned for the season opener and proceeded to start Missouri’s first nine games at right tackle until he was lost for the season when he tore his ACL against Florida.
“Some people take it harder than others,” said the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Britt. “The first couple of days were hard on me. Then I realized it’s not the end of the world, I still had another year, things could still work out as planned. So I stayed in Columbia over the Christmas break, and I was here everyday with (trainers) Rex (Sharp) and Casey (Hairston). I haven’t skipped a day…and they’ve been awesome.”
The hard work has paid off, too. Britt rejoined his team on the practice field last week, and got some action in the Tigers’ first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday.
“It was good to get (him) out there,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “He’s still rusty.”
Britt knew this would be the case – he even said so before the scrimmage, when he estimated his knee was feeling about 80 or 90 percent.
“I do have to improve a lot,” Britt said, “but that’s expected after not playing football for a while.”
Regardless, Britt is excited to be back at left tackle, where he feels most comfortable. He moved to the right side last season to accommodate Elvis Fisher – a four-year starter who missed all of 2011 with a knee injury – and though he was beaten a few times, was generally happy with the way he performed.
In last year’s offensive scheme – which featured plenty of five-wide and empty sets – Britt and Fisher were often asked to hold up on the edge with little help against some of the biggest, most athletic defensive linemen the country has to offer. That includes South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney, who jumped into the nation’s consciousness with this hit in the Gamecocks’ bowl win over Michigan.
“We battled for a half before he got his first sack,” Britt said of Missouri’s 31-10 loss to the Gamecocks last September. “It definitely was a learning experience…I went into it as a challenge, and I think I did well.
“I feel a lot more confident this year. My knee is feeling stronger and stronger, more strong than it was.”
Now, Britt – and his coaches – hope he's ready to build on that experience.
“Left tackle is where I’ve wanted to be since I came here, and once again I’m back,” Britt said. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at Twitter.com/TerezPaylor.