“Big Bear” has been retired.
That’s the nickname former Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel coined for then-sophomore defensive tackle Josh Augusta last season, but he’s Big Bear no more.
Augusta remains the most hefty player on the defensive line, a space-eating force on the interior that tips the scales around 350 pounds. He’s built like a Kodiak, but the bear nickname was never his favorite.
“That’s kind of dead,” sophomore defensive end Charles Harris said. “He doesn’t like Big Bear. He can’t be Big Bear. Not anymore. Look at him. That can’t be a Big Bear. He’s a Juggernaut. That’s how we know him. We know him as Juggernaut, so we’re going to stick with that.”
Juggernaut refers to a practically unstoppable Marvel comics villain with superhuman strength, so it’s an apt nickname.
“Anytime he lines up one-on-one with somebody, it’s over …,” junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “We do a board drill where we line up and go one-on-one. The kid doesn’t lose, because I don’t know how you’re going to push that backwards. That’s where Juggernaut came from, because he’s never lost.”
Missouri needs Augusta, who is the most experienced defensive lineman on the roster with 28 appearances in the last two seasons, to be a juggernaut for its defense in 2015.
Junior Harold Brantley went into the offseason as the unquestioned leaders, a playmaker and rallying force, for the Tigers’ defensive line.
But Brantley was lost for the season after suffering severe injuries in a June car wreck.
That puts more of the onus on Augusta now.
“He’s got great quickness, his size is beneficial and he’s maybe the strongest guy — just physical strength, maybe not weight-room numbers — but maybe one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen with the things he does,” MU’s first-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom said. “He could be a really good player for a long time.”
Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said Augusta “has no ceiling” as a player, but he’s still developing his talent.
“He’s got a ways to go, but he continues to improve,” Kuligowski said. “Hopefully, he will keep making strides, which he has been in a steady fashion. It’s almost a first since he’s been here, so I’m very happy.”
Coaches and teammates also know there’s more there.
“That kid hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential yet,” sophomore defensive tackle A.J. Logan said. “That kid can be a monster — at this level and the next.”
Weight, and by extension stamina, has always been an issue for Augusta, who said he played in the 355- to 360-pound range last season.
Augusta said Missouri’s coaches want him to play at 350 and he’s already slimmed down to 346 pounds, but his goal is to reach 335 pounds.
“I can be faster and I can stay on the field longer to help my team win games …,” Augusta said. “We’ve got a young D-line and I just feel like I need to do more for the team to help them win.”
He’s been running after practice more and monitoring his calorie intake better by cutting out fast food and soda. That means no more big dogs at Pita Pit, his favorite indulgence.
“I’m starting to feel more confident in myself and knowing what I can do and how I can help the team,” Augusta said.
Augusta’s physical gifts aren’t in dispute. He can squat more than 600 pounds and is famous for being able to dunk off one drop step.
Now, it’s about managing his weight, refining his technique with better footwork and hand placement, staying low to maximize his leverage and learning to dominate.
“He’s a freak,” Scherer said. “If we get him to lose a few pounds and get him a little angry, I might call him a few names before the game. He’s scary, very scary. I would not stand in front of him. I don’t care how big I was. I would not stand in front of that kid.
“Sometimes, he gets tired and you’ve got to get in his head and (get him mad). Then, he does some scary things. I’ve seen him throw some big people around.”