Missouri junior wide receiver Nate Brown endured a lost 2016 season from a football perspective.
He suffered a sprained knee on the opening day of spring camp and never fully returned to practice until fall camp.
Two weeks into August, Brown went down with an ankle injury that required surgery and left him with a plate in his left foot.
He was forced to redshirt, a frustrating turn of events for the former four-star prospect from North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, Ga.
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Initially, Brown fought to find a way back on the field, pushing off surgery for several weeks and trying to work through it.
“You go through the treatment and do the drills they ask you to do, but if your body’s not feeling right then you can’t push it,” Brown said.
After prayer as well as consultation with his family and head athletic trainer Rex Sharp, Brown elected for surgery. He’s finally healthy and relished the chance to return to practice on Tuesday as Mizzou opened spring camp.
“It felt really good,” Brown said. “Those periods flew by today and they usually don’t do that, but I feel like I just have a different approach now. I’m not taking any day for granted.”
Senior receiver J’Mon Moore also cheered Brown’s return.
“It’s good to have another true competitor who loves the game,” Moore said. “I’m so happy to see him. That’s my guy, and I was hurt when he went down. Today, he was out there moving pretty good too, so that was great to see.”
Brown is listed as Moore’s backup for one of the outside receiver spots opposite sophomore Dimetrios Mason.
After missing out on the first season utilizing Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s high-octane attack, Brown’s got some catching up to do, but he professes comfort with the breakneck style.
“I feel good with the offense,” said Brown, who has 32 receptions for 371 yards in two seasons. “It’s a fast-paced type of gig, but that’s what we had at my high school. We ran a spread, so just getting back used to the tempo is probably the biggest thing.”
Brown, who led Missouri with four touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015, is eager to hit the ground running next fall.
“I don’t plan to ease back in,” Brown said. “I have high expectations. My personal goals exceed any other goals anyone could have for me. If they have me as a starter or a backup, whatever, I just know that every time I line up that I’m going to give 100 percent. I’m going to get better, work on my craft and see where that takes me.”
Asked if he ever considered transferring, Brown said, “Not at all. I love it here. A couple of my friends have left the program, but for me it’s more than just football here. It’s a family, all the way from the academic staff to the treatment room. They’ve always looked out for me and always had my back. This is the place for me.”
Two absent from spring camp
Two players were absent Tuesday from Missouri’s first spring practice.
Junior running back Nate Strong, who is listed on the Tigers’ depth chart behind co-starters Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter, has been suspended for violating team policy.
“There’s certain things that we do in our program and some standards that we have in our program,” MU coach Barry Odom said. “Right now, he’s suspended for breaking a team policy and I’ll address it again when it needs to be addressed.”
Odom said that offensive lineman Darvis Holmes, who signed with Mizzou last June and redshirted last season after shoulder surgery, has decided to transfer.
Junior tight end Kendall Blanton is out for the spring because of an ankle injury.
Four other players — Witter (shoulder), defensive tackles Terry Beckner Jr. (left ACL) and Markell Utsey (ACL) and safety Cam Hilton (shoulder) — were limited as spring practice got underway.
All four players were expected to be limited as part of the recovery process from surgery.
Odom said Beckner’s recovery was “way ahead of schedule,” reiterating that he and Utsey will get some individual work during the spring.
“He’s so ahead of schedule that we don’t need to push it too far,” Odom said.
Witter said he suffered a torn labrum last spring, “but if I would have got surgery after spring ball I would have missed half the season.”
He chose to play with the injury instead, pushing the repair until after the season.
“It stopped hurting after a minute,” Witter said. “I started getting used to the pain, but this year being healthy should definitely help me out a lot.”
No longer out of our depth
Odom waited until the week of the West Virginia game — when he was obligated to — before releasing a depth chart publicly last season.
In a clear signal he’s more relaxed as a second-year coach, Missouri released a prespring practice depth chart Tuesday as the first of 15 practices in the next six weeks commenced.