First-year Missouri football coach Barry Odom’s journey from being hired Dec. 3 to signing his first recruiting class Wednesday was hardly a straight line.
The Tigers lost six players who’d been committed after Gary Pinkel’s resignation — announced Nov. 13 — and in the wake of campus upheaval that included racial protests, a threatened boycott of the BYU game by the football team and administrative resignations.
Offensive tackle Royce Newman switched to Mississippi, linebacker Tobias Little changed to Louisville, wide receiver Ca’Ron Baham landed at Colorado, offensive guard Mackenzie Nworah flipped to Indiana, running back Darius Anderson opted for TCU and defensive end Tyreic Martin followed former Mizzou defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski to Miami (Fla.).
Despite that attrition, Missouri regrouped, flipped a few commitments from other schools and appears to be finishing strong in Odom’s first offseason.
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“With the transition year, it’s tough to always win a ton of recruiting battles, but expect bigger things when they’re able to recruit as a staff with a full calendar year,” ESPN senior writer Jeremy Crabtree said. “Keeping Andy (Hill, who recruits Kansas City) and Cornell (Ford, who recruits St. Louis) was huge — and even (safeties coach) Ryan Walters. I think he gets underappreciated from a recruiter standpoint, but keeping those three guys around may be the biggest three commitments they’ll get from this class. That will help from a continuity standpoint moving forward.”
Odom’s cause wasn’t helped by the last-minute scramble to replace defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who bailed for a job with the NFL’s Eagles barely a month after being hired and only one week before National Signing Day.
Entering Wednesday, Missouri’s recruiting class ranked No. 49 nationally, according to Rivals, and checked in ahead of only Vanderbilt in the SEC.
That’s a significant change from last season, when the Tigers assembled the No. 27 recruiting class, and represents the lowest-rated prospect group in program history during the Rivals era, which dates to 2002.
Of course, Rivals’ rankings don’t account for the addition of junior college offensive tackle Tyler Howell or wide receiver Chris Black, a graduate student transfer from Alabama.
“Recruiting rankings, especially team rankings, sometimes is a numbers game … but there’s really good quality in this class …,” Crabtree said. “If you’re trying to put things in grander perspective and worried about where they’re ranked numerically, if you’re a Missouri fan, look at how they filled their needs.
“I think you certainly have to give coach Odom and his staff very good grades from a filling-the-needs standpoint with guys who should be able to help move the Tiger football program forward in his mold and with his stamp.”
Hanging onto Columbia-Rock Bridge defensive end Tre Williams, assuming he signs with Missouri as expected Wednesday, adds a future impact player on defense.
“His upside is through the roof,” Crabtree said. “He still looks like a basketball kid in many ways — long arms — but he’s another kid that got undervalued until late in the process when Arizona State started coming after him and made it more interesting than a lot of Tigers fans wanted it to be. His upside is huge, because he’s still hasn’t really dedicated himself entirely to football.”
Williams is the No. 62 defensive end in the country, according to ESPN’s rankings.
Crabtree also was enamored with the Tigers’ haul at outside linebacker. Some recruiting services don’t rate early enrollee Trey Baldwin very high, but ESPN pegs him as a potential gem and borderline four-star talent.
“I don’t know why other places have him as a two-star, because he’s almost a four-star with us at ESPN,” Crabtree said. “Just looking at him on the scouting report from our scouts, he just has great football skills, athleticism and great burst. He shows special teams value and his athletic skills just jump off the charts. … Our scouts absolutely love him.”
ESPN lists Baldwin as the nation’s No. 39 outside linebacker.
Missouri also landed South Oak Cliff’s Marvin Terry from Dallas, who checks in No. 22 in ESPN’s rankings at outside linebacker.
“They did really well at linebacker,” Crabtree said. “I think that’s one of the more underappreciated spots in this class. Everybody wants to focus on the receivers that they got and the defensive line help, like Tre Williams, and the running backs. But outside linebacker really jumps out as a real strength to this class for me.”
Kearney linebacker Cale Garrett is included in that group.