Ask anyone and they’ll tell you: Missouri junior running back Ish Witter is one reserved human being.
It’s just Witter’s nature, says Conrad Rhoden, and one that has existed for as long as Rhoden, a 45-year-old firefighter for the Tampa Fire Rescue, can remember.
Witter and Rhoden are half-brothers — they share the same mother but have different fathers — but to mistake them as father and son would be as easy as it was for Witter to learn to love football, the sport that drives him today. And like much of Witter’s success, a portion of that learned loving can be attributed to Rhoden, who forced his little brother to play as a youth.
“He wanted to quit, but I told him he had something special,” Rhoden said. “I said, ‘No, you’re not going to quit. You don’t quit anything. You’re going to continue to play ball and then, once you get old enough to make a decision you can make that decision.’ ”
For many a thing in Witter’s life, Rhoden’s been somewhat responsible. He’s had to be. When Witter was 10 years old, their mom, Carol, passed away after a battle with myosarcoma, cancer of the muscle tissue. Rhoden said “it felt like the end of the world.”
“My mom was basically the backbone and foundation of this whole family,” Rhoden said. “Being so young, we knew we had to be strong and help Ish through because we knew he was the one that was going to take it the hardest.”
Witter was the youngest, “the baby in the house” as Rhoden recalls it, and he knew it was going to be hard on his brother.
“We kept a close eye on him, but he really wasn’t going to show that much,” Rhoden said. “You knew he was hurting … it was kind of hard, but the whole family got together and stood by him.”
Around the time of his mother’s passing, Witter’s dad elected to move to New York for job opportunities. The two kept in touch and still keep in touch, but Witter wanted to stay in Tampa.
For Rhoden, there was no choice. He emerged the leader, the mentor and the father figure he is today. Be it discipline or conversation, Rhoden has helped teach Witter the importance of maturity and responsibility, two areas that led to his earning a scholarship to play football at Missouri.
Since his arrival, Rhoden’s assistance from a football standpoint has meant support. Witter, who stands at 5-foot-10 and is 200 pounds, hasn’t been Mizzou’s biggest running back, nor has he been Missouri’s quickest, which is something many fans have pointed out.
Witter has seen the comments, but he doesn’t care.
“I’m different. I just worry about my game. I just worry about what I can do to help this team win,” Witter said. “I really don’t care what people think. I see on Twitter that people tweet about me, but I don’t worry about that. I just go to next week and just try to get better and help my team win.”
Through the first five weeks, he has rushed for 257 yards and two touchdowns. In last week’s game against Florida, Witter didn’t start. So what’d he do? In 15 carries, Witter ran for 82 yards — the most he’s run for all year — and scored a touchdown.
Maybe more impressive this season has been Witter’s ability to pass protect, an attribute sophomore quarterback Drew Lock has raved about all year.
“There would be film (in practice) where you get the end zone copy of it, and I saw Mike Scherer running through a hole and Ish would stick his nose right up into him,” Lock said. “I would’ve never done that.
“It’s something Ish doesn’t get enough credit for.”
In his supporting of his brother, Rhoden takes the good with the bad and reminds his brother often that he “has the biggest heart on the team.”
“Ish has been through a lot, and I’ve always told him the only person that will judge you is God, so no matter what people say about him, there’s always going to be negatives and positives, and there’s going to be people that think he’s one of the best and some that think he’s one of the worst,” Rhoden said. “As long as he does what he does and gives 110 percent, nothing else matters.
“It could be washing dishes or playing football, he’s going to give 110 percent.”
Just don’t expect him to say much while doing so.
Alec Lewis: @alec_lewis
Middle Tennessee at Missouri
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Other story lines
QB ROTATION: Missouri needs more production from the passing game than it got Saturday at Florida when sophomore starter Drew Lock was 4 of 18 for 39 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, which were both returned for touchdowns. Lock’s completed passes were the fewest for a Tigers starter since Jim Dougherty had two completions in a 66-0 loss against Kansas State in the 1999 season finale. Sophomore backup Marvin Zanders went 3 of 4 for 59 yards in leading a 99-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Gators’ reserves, but it might have been enough to merit more reps against Middle Tennessee.
CRANKING UP CROCKETT: Freshman running back Damarea Crockett had his second 100-yard rushing performance at Florida when he totaled a career-high 14 carries for a career-best 145 yards. Crockett, who’s yet to be tackled for a loss despite 54 carries, is the first true freshman with two 100-yard rushing games in the same season for the Tigers since Brock Olivo in 1994. Olivo, whose jersey number (27) was retired by Mizzou, currently serves as an assistant special teams coach for the Chiefs.
NEVER LOSING GROUND: Considering the offense’s struggles at LSU and Florida, it’s an amazing stat — Missouri leads the nation in fewest tackles for a loss allowed. The Tigers have only been dropped for a loss 12 times in six games, which is four fewer times than Ohio State (currently second in the Football Bowl Subdivision). Among 128 FBS teams, all but eight have allowed at least twice as many tackles for loss, including an East Carolina team that concedes an FBS-worst 10.2 tackles for loss per game.