Perhaps it’s odd to lean on a player with three career catches for 36 yards and no touchdowns as a leader, but that’s the role Missouri senior wide receiver Wesley Leftwich inherits this spring.
Leftwich is the only senior among 13 receivers on the Tigers’ spring roster.
The three junior receivers — Eric Laurent, Jake Brents and Shawn McCalmon — are all walk-ons, which makes Leftwich the only scholarship upperclassman in the entire receiving corps.
Being thrust into such a leadership positon, isn’t a role Leftwich, a 6-foot-1 and 205-pounder whose penciled in as the starting “Z” receiver, envisioned as a high school star at Hickman High School in Columbia.
But it’s a burden from which he won’t shy away.
“I don’t see it as much of a burden as it is kind of a struggle sometimes,” Leftwich said. “Usually, there’s two or three seniors, but it’s just me, so I’ve got to lay the hammer down, discipline them every once in a while, lead them the way they need to be led. I’ve always got to have my ‘A’ game no matter what. I can’t have any off days in terms of leading.”
Missouri only has two other players on the roster who have caught a pass in a college game.
Sophomore Nate Brown hauled in five passes for 45 yards and no touchdowns and sophomore J’Mon Moore made two catches for 33 yards last season.
The rest of the depth chart is populated with redshirt freshmen and assorted walk-ons with a crop of true freshmen reinforcements expected to arrive in June.
Still, Leftwich expresses confidence despite the fact that the Tigers must replace 80.5 percent of last season’s receptions, 86.4 percent of receiving yards and 24 of 25 touchdowns.
“Being the leader of this group, it’s definitely tough, because you’ve got so many young guys and no partner helping you,” said Leftwich, who ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. “But I think we’ll manage out and be pretty good this year. … The talent’s there.
“It’s just learning the playbook and then going out there and making the plays that need to be made. The younger guys have a lot of potential.”
Missouri was in a similar boat last season after L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas graduated and Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the team during spring practice.
Of course, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White brought more experience than the current group of reinforcements.
The Tigers have lost more than 90 percent of receptions, nearly 94 percent of receiving yards and 55 of 56 touchdowns receptions from the last two teams.
“The last two years, we’ve had a whole new group of receivers both years, and I think this year it’s going to be the exact same,” Leftwich said. “We definitely have the talent to step up, but we’ve just got to build that chemistry with Maty.”
Quarterback Maty Mauk organized offseason seven-on-seven drills for his own benefit but also as a way to begin building that chemistry with a new crop of receivers.
“Those guys are busting their butts to push and make each other better, so it’s going to be exciting,” Mauk said.
It already is for Leftwich.
“Being the No. 1 guy now, you’re always taking it seriously, but it’s your last go-round, especially being a senior,” Leftwich said. “I’m definitely trying to leave it all out on the line this year and be the best I can.”