L’Damian Washington stared at his new phone. A text message urging him to check his email had just popped up, but he didn’t recognize the 573 area code it came from.
“I was like, ‘I haven’t checked my email all summer,’ ” said Washington, a senior Missouri receiver said with a laugh.
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But once he did, he realized the text was from Missouri associate athletic director Chad Moller, the team spokesman for MU football. And he quickly found out that he had just been chosen to represent the Tigers at the three-day fracas known as the Southeastern Conference Media Days, which starts today at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
Washington, who will attend the event today with MU coach Gary Pinkel and teammates Andrew Wilson and James Franklin, is taking his newfound role as team leader seriously.
“Everything you do, the team is looking at you,” said Washington, who spoke at a recent seven-on-seven practice that was opened to the news media. “So it’s one of those things (where) you’ve got to set a great example and just be a leader to the younger guys. It’s something that I’m ready for.”
For Washington and his teammates, that process will begin at the SEC Media Days, though they will have some big shoes to follow. Receiver T.J. Moe was a smash hit at last year’s event, as the always quotable senior kept the large media contingent in stitches with an array of brash, witty quotes.
“We’re good friends, so he pretty much came back and told me everything he said, and also, I follow a few reporters on Twitter so I kind of get the full scoop there,” Washington said. “But I don’t know, I don’t think I’m going to say too many of those things this year. (Following) he and some of Sheldon (Richardon)’s remarks, just period, in the media, I’m definitely not going to follow in those footsteps.”
Washington chuckled as he said this, as did Wilson, a senior linebacker who gave a similar response when asked about Moe’s 2012 star turn.
“I heard he caused quite a stir, so um, I don’t plan on doing anything like that,” Wilson said.
That leaves the always-affable Franklin as reporters’ best chance for a juicy quote. Franklin is an interesting choice to represent the Tigers in Hoover, particularly after a miserable junior season marked by injuries and inconsistency.
Pinkel opened the quarterback competition before spring practice and has since said he won’t decide until August, which means there’s a chance the Tigers are bringing someone to SEC Media Days who might not be the starter.
Franklin, however, posted the best statistics among the three players competing for the job in the scrimmages open to the media this spring, and that — along with his upcoming trip to Hoover and a recent vote of confidence given by new offensive coordinator Josh Henson — would seem to suggest that he is the front-runner.
“We felt like James had the best spring and he was in the lead for the competition,” Henson told the Kansas City Tiger Club on May 14. “He’s in the lead at this point, but it’s not settled.”
The coaching staff has also asked Franklin to be more of a vocal leader, a responsibility his teammates said he has accepted.
“I think he’s got a fire about himself, like I told him one day after a seven-on-seven (in which) he came out here and he yelled at the guys,” Washington said. “I mean, it was something that’s usually not common coming from James … (but) he expects big things from his receivers and this team, so it’s great.”
Franklin isn’t alone in the believing the latter, but after a 5-7 debut season in the SEC last fall, Washington acknowledged that he and his teammates might be among the few at the Wynfrey Hotel who feel that way.
“Just questions about Mizzou competing in the SEC, which is something I feel like we’re going to get a lot (of),” Washington said, when asked what he expects today. “But I mean, obviously I think we can compete in the SEC. The score of some of the games last year indicated we can compete. We just need a turnover here or capitalize on a turnover there to win games.
“We’ve been grinding. We had an early vacation this year…we usually go to a bowl game. So I think some of the guys are excited just to go out and prove that Mizzou is still able to compete.”