Missouri senior wide receiver Eric Laurent skipped class and bailed on a job interview on the same day last December, but his greatest dream still came true that afternoon.
After a position-group meeting, Tigers wide receivers coach Andy Hill asked then-junior Laurent to accompany him to Barry Odom’s office.
“My first thought was, ‘What did I do? I must have gotten in trouble or something,’” said Laurent, who started his career as a walk-on quarterback in 2012. “I didn’t actually go to class that day, so I was like, ‘Oh, great, I’m in trouble for not going to class.’”
Instead, Odom had a long-awaited and considerably more welcome message.
“Good news — we’re putting you on scholarship for the semester,” Odom told Laurent.
Laurent — a two-year letterman from Parkway South High in Ballwin, Mo., who switched to wide receiver early in his career and appeared in four games last season — sat back in his chair joyfully stunned.
“Those kind of moments are really why you do this stuff,” Hill said.
The phone call to his parents, Jeff and Norma-Jean, might have been the best moment for Laurent.
“It meant a lot,” Laurent said. “It meant just that I was needed … that the coaches saw value in me, so it meant a lot to me and my family.”
Laurent also had been scheduled for an interview that afternoon at Lazer Lanes, a Columbia bowling alley and arcade.
Knowing he’d graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Laurent worried he might have to give up his final year of football eligibility to afford graduate school.
A part-time job — on top of a heavy course load and football — was the only other option, but it wasn’t a particularly appealing one.
“The day that they told me, I was very surprised,” Laurent said. “It was definitely a very exciting moment for me, but that’s been a goal of mine since I came in — to earn a scholarship. When the day came, I was really excited and I loved the opportunity to be able to call my parents and say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it.’”
Laurent — who didn’t even merit a page in last season’s media guide and was saddled with No. 41, which he’s since changed to 87 — wasn’t alone in his excitement.
“Seeing all of his hard work pay off is awesome, because the kid works his butt off,” said senior linebacker Michael Scherer, who shared an apartment with Laurent and Evan Boehm last season. “We were watching in the film room, and he caught a pass on somebody. We were talking about him and told (new defensive coordinator DeMontie) Cross he started as a walk-on quarterback. He couldn’t believe it.”
From pee-wee football through a standout career at Parkway South High in suburban St. Louis and during freshman workouts with former Tigers starter Maty Mauk, Laurent had always played quarterback until early in his college career.
Laurent never rankled at switching positions and instead became a valued special teams contributor as he learned a new position.
“All I wanted to do was contribute,” Laurent said.
Now a senior and now on scholarship, Laurent might contribute significantly to the offense during the 2016 season.
“He does everything right, catches every ball, he’s in the right spot and, for not playing very much, he’s a great leader in our room,” Hill said.
It’s too early to tell, especially with the immense numbers Mizzou has at the wide receiver position, where Laurent fits on the team’s still-unreleased depth chart. But he wasn’t put on scholarship as a token of appreciation.
“He’s reliable and consistent, can make plays and has good ball skills,” Odom said. “Also, his competitive spirit, I’m proud of it. … He’s just a tremendous worker and represents our program in all the ways we want him to, works extremely hard on the field and is going to play for us.”
Being a former quarterback allows Laurent to see the game differently than most receivers, which provides an edge once the ball is snapped.
“He’s as sure-handed as they get,” Scherer said. “He’s going to catch the ball when it comes to him. The fact of the matter is, he’s not the fastest and probably not the most athletic, but he’s going to find a way to get open and catch the ball when it comes to him.”