Bright and early Thursday, several hours before the Missouri football team opened its fall camp, coach Gary Pinkel asked every player who had been with the program since at least last spring to vote on senior captains.
Center Evan Boehm, running back Russell Hansbrough, free safety Ian Simon and cornerback Kenya Dennis were elected as the Tigers’ permanent captains by their teammates in the quest for an SEC East division three-peat.
“We feel very good about all four of them,” Pinkel said. “It’s pretty cool how we do it, and we’ve been doing that for years. The greatest honor you get is being elected captain, but it’s also the greatest responsibility.”
For Boehm, it was a long-held dream come true.
“When I committed here, (being a captain) was a goal,” said Boehm, a Lee’s Summit West graduate. “Being a Kansas City kid, growing up rooting for the Tigers, your goal is to become a captain, your goal is to make sure you can lead this team and prove to these guys that you can lead them. … It kind of leaves me speechless, and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I’m blessed.”
Hansbrough leads more by example and said he “was pretty surprised” to be elected captain.
“I was just happy for the team to pick me, knowing that I’m not that vocal,” he said.
Simon also was surprised, but it was a pleasant one.
“My freshman year, Kenji Jackson was one of the captains, and he’s from my hometown,” Simon said. “With him being here, I felt like I had some pretty big shoes to fill. I had someone to look up to, someone to live up to, honestly. He’s somebody I always aspired to be like, because he’s such a hard worker. … I’ve always wanted to mimic his success.”
Finally, Dennis becomes only the third transfer under Pinkel to earn a captaincy, joining safety Pig Brown (2007) and defensive end Markus Golden (2014).
“It’s pretty big to me,” Dennis said. “Obviously, these guys look up to me and respect me, so I just want to lead these guys and come out here every day and make sure they have a positive model to look at.”
Former NFL star Justin Smith returns
▪ Pinkel confirmed that former NFL All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler Justin Smith, a 2000 graduate of MU, will “help us in the weight room and do some work with our players.”
Smith, 35, who was drafted No. 4 overall by the Bengals in 2001 and spent the last seven years of his career with the 49ers, recorded 613 tackles and 87 sacks in 14 NFL seasons.
“He had a great career in the NFL (and is) a great Missouri Tiger,” Pinkel said. “He loves being here, so I think he’ll be able to help us out and do some good things for us.”
Smith is a Jefferson City native and remains the program’s all-time leader with 50 tackles for a loss, including a single-season record 24 as a junior.
Smith, who 11 sacks in 2000 stood as the Tigers’ single-season record for nine years, also owns the second-most sacks in program history (221/2) despite playing only three seasons.
“I was kind of in awe of how jacked he is,” senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers said.
▪ In conjunction with the start of camp, Missouri issued a new depth chart.
There weren’t many noteworthy changes, but the fact that redshirt freshman DeSean Blair was listed as the starter at the Tigers’ X receiver spot certainly jumped out.
Blair had a strong camp, but sophomore J’Mon Moore was the presumptive starter at that position.
Perhaps Moore’s demotion was meant to serve as a wake-up call or maybe it’s simply an indication that Blair has progressed by leaps and bounds.
Ray Wingo is listed third at X receiver, which now shapes up as one of the more intriguing position battles in MU’s fall camp.
The only change among starters on defense was dropping Harold Brantley from the depth chart. He suffered a broken leg and other injuries in a Father’s Day car crash that will keep him out for the season.
Junior Josh Augusta is now listed as the starter at defensive tackle alongside junior Rickey Hatley. Sophomore A.J. Logan and junior Tyler Hanneke are the only interior defensive linemen listed as backups.
Junior cornerback John Gibson is listed as the first-team kicker returner and junior cornerback Aarion Penton is listed atop the punt returner depth chart.