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Tigers out to prove naysayers wrong

Updated: 2013-07-20T03:40:19Z

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR

The Kansas City Star

Evan Boehm was checking Twitter on Thursday, just minding his own business, when some interesting tweets began to flood his timeline.

The Tigers, it turns out, had been picked by the media to finish second-to-last in Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division this season. Feeling a need to response in some way, Boehm quickly retweeted the following by senior receiver L’Damian Washington, which seemed to adequately capture his feelings:

“If predictions meant anything then what would be the point to even show up on Saturdays!!” Washington wrote.

Boehm, who was joined by several teammates at Friday’s Royals game for Mizzou Night, spoke more about the projection, and the No. 1 reason he believes it won’t come to fruition.

“We’re hungry — you can see it,” said Boehm, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound sophomore who started all 12 games as a true freshman last season. “You look around and you can see how last year left a bad taste in everybody's mouth. No football team likes that, especially the Missouri Tigers.”

Clearly, Missouri’s 5-7 record last season, which marked the first time since 2004 the Tigers failed to reach a bowl game, played a major role in voters’ minds. Missouri checked in behind Tennessee in the poll, despite beating the Vols, who have a new coach and have lost 14 of their last 15 SEC games, in Knoxville last fall.

However, at least one player admitted he understood the lack of respect shown to Missouri, even if he doesn’t like it.

“I wasn’t very surprised after the season we had last year,” said senior cornerback E.J. Gaines. “Coming in, we’ve got another chip on our shoulder, just like we did coming in from the Big 12.”

Gaines, a third-team selection on the preseason all-SEC team, was the only Tiger to make the list, giving Missouri the fewest selections of any team in the league. Mississippi State and Kentucky had the next fewest of any team, with two apiece.

Gaines, however, didn’t seem to be particularly thrilled with his placement on this year’s team. Remember, the 5-foot-10 cornerback from Fort Osage High School was a first-team all-Big 12 selection in 2011, only to be shut out of SEC honors as a junior last season, when he led the Tigers with 11 pass breakups and one interception.

“A lot of guys have to prove themselves, just like I do,” said Gaines, who has been urged by the coaching staff to go for more interceptions this year. “(But) it’s all right … the media is going to say what they want to say. Until I start making plays on the field, none of that really matters.”

Sophomore quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, who said he’s been told he remains in the quarterback competition despite being passed up for the No. 2 spot this spring by redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, agreed.

“It definitely doesn’t mean anything,” Berkstresser said of the prediction. “It gives you something to shoot for.”

It also gave Berkstresser something to laugh at this week, particularly after Alabama coach Nick Saban took a playful jab at the media by pointing out the writers had only picked the league’s eventual champion correctly four times over the past 21 seasons.

“That was pretty funny,” Berkstresser said.

What isn’t funny, however, is the lack of faith some seem to have in the Tigers, who return 14 starters from a team that went 2-6 in conference play last season. The good news for Missouri is that it’s a new year, which means it will again get its chance to earn some respect where it really matters — on the field.

“Sometimes it’s good to be the underdog, it’s good to be the sleeper team,” Boehm said. “I’m excited for what we have coming up. We have a lot to prove.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at Twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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