Missouri’s backfield is getting a bit more crowded, but that’s a good thing.
Hinds (Miss.) Community College running back Nate Strong will be eligible to join the Tigers for the fall semester.
Unconfirmed reports during the spring indicated that Strong’s enrollment would be delayed until January as he waited to complete coursework at Hinds, but a source confirmed to The Star on Wednesday that he’ll be eligible to enroll at Mizzou after all.
Strong only racked up 15 carries for 102 yards last season after an arm injury sidelined him for all but two games.
He’s the No. 2-ranked junior college running back and No. 20 player overall, according to a 247 Sports, and is a consensus four-star prospect.
Strong — a 2015 East St. Louis, Ill., graduate, who committed to MU out of high school but went the junior college route because of academics — joins a position group that desperately needed an upgrade.
The Tigers ranked 118th among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams last season with a 3.49-yard average per rushing attempt.
Missouri’s five rushing touchdowns last season, including one each by quarterbacks Maty Mauk and Drew Lock, ranked 127th in the nation — ahead of only Central Florida (four).
Averaging 115.4 rushing yards last season, the Tigers checked in 120th in the country. No other team in the SEC ranked worse than 88th.
First-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom and new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel haven’t been shy about a desire to incorporate more of a power-running approach.
Obviously, the offensive line needs to improve from last season to make an impact, but the Tigers also needed to upgrade the running back position.
Ish Witter, who will be a junior this fall, led Missouri with 126 carries and 518 yards rushing last season, but none of the Tigers’ next four leading rushers — Russell Hansbrough, Tyler Hunt, Maty Mauk and Chase Abbington — are back.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock (52 carries for 28 yards), punter Corey Fatony (one carry for 26 yards) and sophomore wide receiver Ray Wingo (two carries for four yards) are the only other players with a rushing attempt last season.
Witter — a 5-foot-10, 190-pound native of Tampa, Fla., — isn’t built to be a workhorse back.
The addition of Oklahoma graduate transfer Alex Ross — a 6-1, 220-pound bruiser from Jenks (Okla.) High — was a coup for Odom and his staff.
Mizzou also flipped Damarea Crockett — a 5-11, 210-pound back from Little Rock, Ark. — from a Boise State commitment late in the recruiting process before signing day in February.
Adding Strong to the stable bolsters the Tigers’ backfield and might turn a position of weakness entering the spring into a position of strength entering fall camp.