COLUMBIA, Mo. • Three years ago Tyler Hunt was all set to play baseball at Meramec Community College — until the phone rang in late July.
“You’re still coming, right?”
It was the Missouri football coaches. At one point they had talked to Hunt about joining the team as a walk-on. A record-breaking quarterback at Westran High in Huntsville, Mo., Hunt had dreamed of playing for Mizzou but signed to play baseball at Meramec, where he had a full scholarship waiting for him.
Instead, he passed on the money for the dream.
After finishing his prep career with 10,149 yards of total offense — a figure that ranked third in state history when he graduated — Hunt joined the Tigers as a walk-on running back and last year found a role on the kickoff coverage unit.
Last week, the dream got better. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called Hunt on Friday to tell him he’d earned a scholarship for his junior season.
“He can help our team win,” said Pinkel, whose No. 24 Tigers host South Dakota State at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Hunt will start on the kickoff, kickoff return and punt team and could find some carries in relief of senior Marcus Murphy and junior Russell Hansbrough at tailback.
“Murph and Russell are definitely playmakers, but I want to establish that I am 220 (pounds), I run a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and I’m one of the stronger kids in the weight room on the whole team,” Hunt said. “I want to prove that I can be that third-down back and go in and break tackles.”
Hunt’s scholarship is only for the upcoming school year, which means he’ll have to earn another one for his senior season. But it comes at a perfect time: His financial aid package was about to expire for this semester. He instantly called his parents, Ron and Carol Hunt, to share the big news.
“I was trying to figure out how I was going to buy groceries and pay rent,” he said. “My mom and dad just screamed as soon as they got the phone call.”
“It’s always good to see a guy who comes out every day to work hard and improve,” Murphy said. “It’s about time he got a scholarship. He’s earned it.”
BACKUP JOB FIT FOR A PRINTZ
By the end of preseason practices, redshirt freshman Eddie Printz had outplayed junior Corbin Berkstresser just enough to win the backup quarterback job. Printz, a 6-2 pocket passer from Marietta, Ga., has never played in a college game, and Pinkel was unsure if or when he’ll get some planned snaps in the coming weeks.
“We felt like over the last week and a half, Eddie really stepped forward with the consistency of his reads and placement of his throws,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said.
FIVE FRESHMEN IN PLAY
Pinkel said five freshmen will play this season: tailback Ish Witter, slot receiver Lawrence Lee, outside receiver Nate Brown, cornerback Logan Cheadle and safety Thomas Wilson, who will be the team’s No. 2 nickelback.
Two freshmen have yet to enroll at Mizzou because of academic issues: safety Tavon Ross and defensive lineman Walter Brady. Ross is taking an online class to fulfill enrollment requirements. Pinkel said one of the two, presumably Brady, is appealing his eligibility status with the NCAA.
“We still hope to get them,” Pinkel said.
PINKEL WISHES DGB WELL
Pinkel declined to comment on whether he agreed with the NCAA’s decision Friday to turn down Oklahoma’s waiver request for former MU receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to play this season for the Sooners. Pinkel dismissed Green-Beckham from MU in April. He enrolled at OU this summer hoping to play immediately this season and avoid the NCAA’s sit-out rule for transfers.
Green-Beckham could decide to enter the 2015 NFL draft or stay at Oklahoma and play for the Sooners next season.
“I want him to use this year to really help himself,” Pinkel said, “so he can come back and have a great year after that.”
NINE FIRST-TIME STARTERS
Nine players are expected to make their first career starts for Mizzou in Saturday’s opener, including middle linebacker Michael Scherer, a sophomore from MICDS.
Scherer starts on both the base and nickel packages, which means he’ll rarely leave the field this season.
“I expect to be out there the whole time,” he said. “I might need to take a break every once in a while, but I’ve worked very hard and worked myself into good conditioning. Hopefully it holds up.”
Other players expected to make their starting debuts are Hansbrough, right guard Mitch Hall, receivers Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, linebacker Donavin Newsom and cornerback John Gibson.