University of Missouri

Jordan Ulmer was close to leaving Mizzou. Now he’s expected to help the secondary

Jordan Ulmer started the first game of his college career and that remains his last start.

After starting at safety in Missouri’s 2017 opener against Missouri State, Ulmer played in just eight more games as a reserve at the expense of his redshirt.

By the time MU’s coaching staff realized Ulmer wasn’t performing like he had in the preseason, he continued to play because his redshirt was already burned. A year later, the NCAA would implement a rule that allowed players to play in four games while retaining a year of eligibility, which is exactly what Ulmer needed.

“He came in when he was a freshman and was lights out,” said Ryan Walters, MU’s defensive coordinator. “Once the season and school started, he kind of lost his way a little bit.”

After two years playing sparingly, Ulmer appears poised for a breakthrough season as a junior. After Monday’s practice, MU coach Barry Odom said the 6-foot-2 safety has had “as good a camp as anybody.”

Odom was brutally honest when discussing Ulmer, saying the Belleville, Michigan native spent the past two seasons in and out of his doghouse and held himself back because of his immaturity.

“There were times I didn’t think he was going to be part of the program,” Odom said. “He had some things to take care of academically. I’m proud of him. He’s grown up. I think he’s going to help us.”

Walters said Ulmer’s troubles followed a pattern. Over the summer, he would play like a starter and impress the coaching staff, but struggled at the start of the semester when schoolwork overlapped with the season. Ulmer struggled to balance both and saw Josh Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie pass him on the depth chart.

Cornerback Christian Holmes said Ulmer’s problems are common for freshmen, who are still developing time-management skills.

“You’re told so many things and you get hit with adversity,” Holmes said. “He’s got a stronger mindset. He’ll be better off this year.

As a sophomore in 2018, Ulmer appeared in 10 games, but made just two tackles. It was after his sophomore season that Ulmer started to realize his career was at a crossroads.

“I learned a lot of lessons from my freshman and sophomore years,” Ulmer told The Star. “It took time for me to understand what I have to do.”

Walters said the NCAA’s new redshirt rule was made for players like Ulmer, who are capable of playing early but need time to adjust. Walters noticed a change in Ulmer earlier this summer, when he came into summer workouts with a newfound effort into his studies that translated on the field.

Ulmer said there wasn’t really an epiphany with his change of habits, other than that he knew the clock was ticking on his career and that the program was going to find other guys to play in the secondary regardless of his actions.

He credits Bledsoe, Gillespie and senior Khalil Oliver for keeping his spirits up when Odom was close to throwing him off the team.

“I was down, but my teammates pushed me through stuff,” Ulmer said. “I knew I could play and help out this team a lot.”

Now he should get his chance to.

Recruit picks Tigers

Shortly after Missouri’s Tuesday practice, the Tigers landed a commitment from Montra Edwards Jr., a three-star defensive lineman from Mississippi. Edwards is a consensus three-star prospect who also held offers from LSU, Oregon, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

During his junior season at Holmes County Central, the 6-foot-3 senior-to-be had 29 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks on a team that went 11-2 and reached the second round of the state playoffs. Edwards is 14th pledge in MU’s 2020 class.

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.