Missouri junior defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. has looked up to his older cousin Dewith Willis for as long as he can remember.
It was that admiration that sparked Beckner’s interest in football.
It also gave Beckner a favorite jersey number, No. 5, because that’s the number Willis wore in high school before playing running back and linebacker for Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
“He used to come home from college, and I used to put on his equipment and just run into the wall,” said Beckner, whose first two seasons at Mizzou were cut short by knee injuries. “I was little, probably 3 or 4 years old, and I’d put on his equipment and run into the wall every time. … I don’t think I’d recommend that.”
This fall, Beckner will pay homage to Willis after switching from No. 79 to No. 5 during the offseason.
“He comes to the games ,” Beckner said. “He already called me about (wearing No. 5) anyway, so he probably will be (pumped).”
Cornerback John Gibson’s graduation left No. 5 on Mizzou’s defense up for grabs, so Beckner happily claimed it — even if it will be something of an odd sight on game day.
“I always wanted a single digit,” Beckner said, “ … but it probably does” look different on a 300-pound defensive lineman. “Usually, you see somebody that’s about 170, 180 in that jersey.”
Beckner — who suffered torn ligaments, including the ACL, in his right knee as a freshman and tore his left ACL last season — said he’s probably 75-80 percent of full strength, which is in line with expectations after surgery in late October, and believes he’ll be ready for fall camp.
After enduring rehabilitation from ACL surgery last offseason, it’s been an easier process this offseason, because he’s familiar with the process.
Beckner has been limited throughout the spring, and he hasn’t participated in any scrimmages. He won’t play Saturday in the Black & Gold Spring Game.
Leadership is one area in which injury hasn’t impacted Beckner, who emerged as a vocal leader in the Tigers’ locker room late last season.
“At first, it was a little uncomfortable to me,” he said. “It snuck up on me a little bit, but I’ve been getting better with it.”
Second-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom certainly has noticed.
“He’s a little bit of a quieter guy … but really at the end of last year, and that carried over into the offseason, he’s been maybe one of the most vocal guys we have,” Odom said.
“We’ve met a lot, just individual meetings on different things, and he’s grown up. He’s really done a great job and he understands how limited his time is remaining here, and he wants it to be great. He wants to have a chance to lead the team.”
Broken arm sidelines DE Marcell Frazier
Senior defensive end Marcell Frazier underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a broken radius bone in his right forearm.
Frazier, who is Missouri’s most productive returning defensive end after totaling 33 tackles with 8 1/2 for a loss and 7 1/2 sacks last season, suffered the injury Saturday during a closed intrasquad scrimmage.
“You never want an injury, but you’d rather have it now than the middle of August,” Odom said. “I expect him to be back full ready to roll in June. I hate it, because he was having a really good spring and had developed a great deal into a leadership role.”
Frazier will miss the spring game along with Beckner and sophomore defensive tackle Markell Utsey, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL last winter.
“We’re going to eventually come back, and it’s going to be all right,” Beckner said.
DE Spencer Williams to transfer
Junior defensive end Spencer Williams, who began the spring as the starter opposite Frazier on Missouri’s defense, is leaving the program.
“Spencer decided that he’s going to transfer,” Odom said. “He doesn’t really know how much, if any, football’s in his future. If it is, it will probably be at a lower level closer to home. I wish him the best.”
Williams — a native of Jacksonville, Fla., who signed with the Tigers in 2014 — appeared in all 12 games last season, making five starts and finishing with 15 tackles.
Odom meets with NCAA wrestling champ Cox
Last week, Odom joked that he feared three-time NCAA 197-pound champion and Olympic freestyle wrestling bronze medalist J’den Cox.
Odom also said he’d welcome the chance to discuss the possibility of Cox, a former linebacker at Hickman High in Columbia, playing next fall as a walk-on with the Tigers.
The two met on Monday, but no decision has been reached.
“He’s such a great guy, a great kid,” Odom said. “He’s getting pulled in a lot of different directions. We’re going to continue to stay in communication and kind of see what takes place.
“He’s got a lot of opportunities and he knows where I sit on the situation. I wish him the best, if it’s out here or what he’s going to do. We’ll let it play out here in the next couple of weeks and see where it goes.”