Late in the third quarter of Missouri’s 51-14 win over Tennessee-Martin, linebacker Jacob Trump sprinted through a hole and sacked Skyhawks’ quarterback Dresser Winn for a loss of 2 yards.
It was a play three years in the making for the redshirt junior, who battled injuries and struggled to see the field as a linebacker since joining the Tigers football team in 2015.
After suffering a right ACL tear on Sept. 10, 2017, the day after Missouri’s loss to South Carolina, Trump missed almost all of last season. He was expected to be a big part of the Tigers’ special teams unit and rotate in at linebacker.
But Trump turned heads in fall camp and was a surprise name on Missouri’s first depth chart of the season as a co-backup to middle linebacker Cale Garrett.
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“(I’m) grateful that I’m healthy enough to be able to go at it again,” Trump said. “A year of sitting back and watching, trying to figure things out, it all paid off on Saturday.”
Those close to Trump thought he would always wind up at Missouri in some capacity, but an injury forced his hand during his senior year of high school.
At Clark County High School in Kahoka, Mo., coach Quentin Hammer molded Trump into a standout linebacker and 1,000-yard rusher. During a game against Macon his senior year, Trump had his ankle turned on a tackle and at first thought he broke his ankle, but X-rays proved otherwise.
Trump, who is not related to President Donald Trump, found out the hard way that he has Os Trigonum Syndrome, which means he has an extra bone in his heel.
Before that, he’d been hearing from FCS schools to play linebacker or tight end, since he had the hands and size to be a reliable pass catcher at the next level.
“It definitely affected the recruiting process,” he said. “Coaches would call me and ask, ‘Are you doing better? Are you healthy again? Send us film when you get back.’ That never ended up happening.”
Trump chose to walk on at Missouri — his dream school since he had been a kid. Trump’s uncle through marriage is head coach Barry Odom, who, at the time, was returning to Columbia as the team’s new defensive coordinator.
Trump, who is 6-3, said he never worried about having the “coaches relative” stigma on the team since he knew Odom wouldn’t treat him differently.
“I would hope not,” Trump said. “I expect not. Coach Odom expects not. He doesn’t treat me as family. I’m very thankful for that. I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s the way it should be.”
Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said the Trump-Odom relationship is “known but not advertised,” and Trump said most players find out from a third party instead of a coach or player.
Trump’s ability to long snap first got him on the field as a redshirt freshman after starter Jake Hurrell went down with a concussion. With the team short on depth, Trump emerged as a reliable option on special teams. Trump had done some long-snapping in high school.
“I always kept that in my back pocket,” he said. “When I came in (the coaches) found out I could snap a little bit.”
Known on the team for his work ethic, Trump emerged over the course of the spring and summer as a competent backup to Garrett. Garrett said it’s rare to not find Trump in the film room or on the back practice field long after the team’s morning practice ends.
“He’s always here. He’s always doing the right things,” Garrett said. “He’ll do anything he can to get better.”
With Missouri returning all three starters at linebacker in Brandon Lee, Terez Hall and Garrett, Odom said his team isn’t in a position to let all three starters play the entire game. That’s where Trump comes in.
“Jake’s ability to understand what we want out of that spot defensively, the assignments, the checks and then doing it real speed and game tempo, he’s got it down,” Odom said. “He understands the defense, he understands where he’s supposed to be.”
After waiting three years to see the field at linebacker, Trump hopes the Tennessee-Martin game marked the first of many Saturdays playing linebacker.
He doesn’t want Saturday’s sack to be his lone highlight of the season and hopes he’s able to push for more playing time as the season progresses.
“We knew his career would be positive,” Hammer said. “We just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”