Missouri football has already seen the emergence of one true freshman, one who was barely recruited in high school, help change the course of its season.
Now it’s starting to see another.
While running back Larry Rountree, who chose Missouri over a few FCS schools, has emerged as the team’s No. 2 running back in the absence of Damarea Crockett, linebacker Josh Bledsoe, also a freshman, has emerged as a factor on defense.
Bledsoe started the season at safety but then moved to linebacker after Kaleb Prewett switched positions with Anthony Sherrils. Bledsoe had his first career sack in Saturday’s win over Tennessee and has been all over the field in recent weeks.
The change has made Missouri’s secondary bigger and faster, according to co-defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, and Sherrils has emerged as a star in the second half of the season.
Mizzou coach Barry Odom said earlier this week that Bledsoe, who’s 6 feet tall, had the skill-set to make the change earlier in the season but lacked experience at the college level.
Now it’s a different situation.
“That’s helped us a lot,” Odom said. “And some of the sub-packages he’s involved with. We’re moving him a lot of places over the field but the other night you had him and Chris Turner and Kobie Whiteside and Tre Williams all combine on the same tackle and it was freshman, freshman, freshman —‒ pretty excited about that. He’s got some things just coverage-wise that he’s been able to help us with. He’s also got an understanding of the zone-blitz concepts. He’s got a good football IQ.”
Bledsoe chose Missouri over North Texas, Rice, Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana-Monroe. Anthony Williams, who coached Bledsoe at Dekaney High School in Houston, said Bledsoe had one bad 40-yard dash time at a prospects camp and thinks that caused schools to lose interest. Williams remembers telling former Missouri defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross that the Tigers would be getting a steal in Bledsoe when Cross first came to evaluate him.
Williams said Bledsoe’s ability to contribute as a freshman stems from his mentality, which stays strong even after a penalty or a blown coverage.
“He’s got ice water in his veins,” Williams said. “His mental toughness is off the charts. He understands how you deal with adversity defines you as a man and a football player as well.”
In high school, Williams used Bledsoe as a running back, punter, cornerback, safety and linebacker. Schools like Rice offered Bledsoe very early on to come in and start at running back, while others saw him as a hybrid defensive back. Williams said Rice was one of the few Texas schools to show interest in Bledsoe.
Fellow linebacker Terez Hall said Bledsoe’s work ethic is second to none and Bledsoe’s ability to play multiple positions helped him adjust quicker when Missouri shook up the secondary.
“Wherever they put him in at he fits there,” Hall said.
Linebacker Brandon Lee echos Williams’ thoughts and said Bledsoe’s mind-set is what’s kept him on the field so far this season. A redshirt junior, Lee said he’s seen a lot of players in his time at Missouri have strong starts only to see a mistake eat at them and get them into a funk the rest of the season. The following spring or summer, they’re buried on the depth chart.
Lee doesn’t think that’s going to be an issue for Bledsoe.
“He’s just realizing that even though he’s a freshman, he’s got all the tools to compete,” Lee said. “It’s scary because the more confident he gets, the more damage he does on the field.”