The curtain won’t rise on Missouri high school football again for six months, but already the 2018 recruiting class — next fall’s seniors — are receiving rave reviews.
“It’s one of the best in recent memory, if not the best ever,” second-year Tigers coach Barry Odom said. “It’s always important for us to recruit the state of Missouri, and the class of 2018 is obviously very critical for what we want to do.”
Odom’s staff understands there’s an unusually deep in-state well from which to pull this year, creating urgency to capitalize.
“It’s been awhile (since I’ve seen a class like this),” MU defensive coordinator and St. Louis native DeMontie Cross said. “I’m not tooting my own horn, but that year I came out — 1992 — I think we had 30 Division I guys. This year reminds me of that, where you just kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Missouri’s had its share of recruiting successes in Texas — landing impact players like Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander — but in-state players remain the program’s lifeblood.
“The majority of our great players — the All-American type Justin Smith or Aldon Smith or Shane Ray or Jeremy Maclin guys — have been from the state of Missouri,” said Tigers associate head coach and wide receivers coach Andy Hill, who is the program’s primary recruiter in Kansas City. “You can’t always fly down to Texas or Florida and get a Jeremy Maclin or Chase Coffman. We’ve really got to battle here in our homeland to do that.”
That was true under Gary Pinkel and Larry Smith and Warren Powers and Dan Devine, but 2018 feels especially important for Odom.
Lee’s Summit North wide receiver Da’Ron Davis represents the Tigers’ entire in-state haul among a 25-player crop for 2017 that signed last Feb. 1.
Between 2002-16, Mizzou averaged more than seven in-state prospects, signing no fewer than five Missouri high school graduates in any single year — a figure that doesn’t even include players from Johnson County or the Illinois side of metropolitan St. Louis.
One player from within the Show-Me State borders simply won’t do in 2018.
“There are five or six, maybe upwards of 10, impact players over in St. Louis,” ESPN senior writer Jeremy Crabtree said. “(Mizzou) needs to send a signal that they are going to lock down the borders and keep those guys at home.”
No Missouri players were included in the 2017 ESPN 300, but four St. Louis players — Christian Brothers College’s Kamryn Babb (No. 117), Parkway North’s Michael Thompson (No. 213), Chaminade’s Trevor Trout (No. 236) and Pattonville’s Kaleb Eleby (No. 296) — are in the 2018 ESPN 300.
Various recruiting services also list Lee’s Summit West’s Mario Goodrich and Lutheran North’s Ronnie Perkins from St. Louis as four-star recruits for next season.
“It’s very important we do get all the guys in Missouri to come and stay Missouri Tigers,” Hill said. “It’s not that freaking hard to figure out. Missouri is the best school to go to.”
Odom’s oft-stated goal is to compete for championships, a goal that in some ways starts with landing a strong in-state haul for 2018.
“We don’t need to start anywhere but here in the state and secure the borders because we have enough talent in this 2018 class to really put Mizzou back in position to dominate the SEC East and get back to Atlanta as we all keep preaching,” Cross said. “These kids are talented, and we’ve got to make sure that we get them all, not just some of them.”
It will be a tall order, especially coming off a 4-8 season.
On the bright side, the Tigers finished with two wins in the final three games against bowl-eligible teams — Vanderbilt and Arkansas — and aren’t far removed from back-to-back SEC Championship Game appearances.
“We know that it’s not going to be an easy feat when you’ve got Alabama and Ohio State coming into your state and offering kids, but we’ve got to take care of home ...,” Cross said. “Those guys could be the foundation and the future of Missouri football for the next four or five years.”
Selling that vision is important during the next few months.
“It would be special if you could get those guys to play together, because of the chemistry that they already have,” Mizzou co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Ryan Walters said. “It would be different if they all spread out. They would each probably have good individual careers, but if they all stuck together that could be a very special deal.”