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Drinkwitz: Mizzou needs more local talent to build program

Drinkwitz: Mizzou needs more local talent to build program

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — NCAA rules prohibit coaches from discussing unsigned recruits in media interviews, but that didn’t stop Eli Drinkwitz from getting a question about Tuesday’s news out of St. Louis. 

East St. Louis five-star prospect Luther Burden, the nation’s top-rated wide receiver, committed to Mizzou on Tuesday, choosing Drinkwitz’s Tigers over Alabama and Georgia.

Asked about the pledge during Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference coaches’ call, Drinkwitz followed NCAA rules but used the platform to double down on MU’s recruiting efforts.

Luther Burden of East St. Louis High School announces he’ll attend Mizzou to play college football next season. He will enroll early to practice in the spring. Video by Benjamin Hochman

“Obviously, due to NCAA rules I’m not able to comment on any recruiting or anything like that. So I wouldn't be able to accurately give a summation to that question,” he said. “I can speak to the importance of us continuing to recruit our state. Last week versus Texas A&M, a young man who played extremely well and had an interception against us, a tremendous player, was from East St. Louis. So in order for us to get to where we want to be, we need to have those players continue to come play for us. So that's been an emphasis for our staff. We’ve got to continue to do that.”

That player was sophomore nickelback Antonio Johnson, a rising star in the Texas A&M secondary who’s likely to earn All-SEC honors this season. A former four-star recruit at East St. Louis High, Johnson committed to the Aggies before Drinkwitz replaced Barry Odom as Missouri’s head coach.

(Yes, technically, East St. Louis is not an in-state school, but Mizzou's staff counts the high schools just past the Illinois and Kansas border as in-state recruiting turf.)

But Burden’s pledge continued Mizzou’s upward trend with highly touted players from the region. In 2021, Drinkwitz signed three four-star St. Louis area players: East St. Louis quarterback Tyler Macon and receiver Dominic Lovett and Lutheran North defensive end Travion Ford. (De Smet defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo, a three-star prospect, has made the biggest impact among all MU freshman, earning a starting job along a veteran D-line.)

In the 2022 class, Drinkwitz has pledges from three local four-star recruits, SLUH safety Isaac Thompson, Parkway West receiver Ja’Marion Wayne and St. Charles defensive tackle Marquis Gracial, plus five-star Burden. (Wayne is rated a four-star player by 247Sports.com’s national composite.)

That’s seven local recruits rated four stars or better. From 2012 to 2020, Mizzou signed a combined six St. Louis high school prospects rated four stars or better.

Wednesday's call was Drinkwitz's only media availability during the team's bye week. The Tigers (3-4, 0-3 SEC) resume play Oct. 30 at Vanderbilt, a 2 p.m. CT kickoff on SEC Network. The Commodores (2-5, 0-3) play Mississippi State on Saturday.

More from Drinkwitz on Wednesday …

On Ja’Mori Maclin’s decision to enter the NCAA transfer portal …

“I wish Ja’Mori all the best. He was nothing but a great teammate while he was here. Just sorry that it wasn't the right fit for him, and ultimately wish him the absolute best to wherever he lands. I know that Mizzou meant a lot to him and his family.”

On injuries from the Texas A&M game …

“We do have some injuries that could affect some players significantly, and we will be releasing those.”

(In Saturday’s game, defensive ends Chris Turner and Isaiah McGuire were both helped off the field with injuries, along with nickelback Kris Abrams-Draine.)

On diagnosing offensive problems …

“Turnovers have played a big issue in not providing good field position for our defense. I think that's been key. And then penalties on drives. We've had multiple penalties on our first drives in the two SEC games that have derailed drives and/or led to turnovers. And those cannot happen.”

On addressing penalties …

“I think it's a conscientious effort to understand that you cannot play with hands outside. If you're an offensive player and the play is going away from you, you've got to let go of the cloth of the defender. When the ball is in the air, you have to look back to the football. Face guarding is going to be pass interference just about every time. So those are things that you can teach and continue to drill.”

On Mizzou’s offensive identity …

“Our strength is our running back. We've been trying to find as many different ways to get Tyler Badie the ball. That’s our greatest strength. We have to improve in our ability to create holes with the offensive line versus favorable boxes. And our quarterback has to continue to take care of the football. I think those are things that have to be interwoven that any good offense has, the ability to run the ball versus favorable boxes and the quarterback to take care of the football and not put the defense in bad situations with turnovers.”

On his play-calling philosophies late in first halves …

“My general philosophy is … depending on how the swing eight is going, which is the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. Now, there's really only one time with the football, even after turnovers, that you can double up on possession, meaning you get back-to-back possessions without the other team having the opportunity for the football. That is if you have the ball at the end of the half and then get the ball to start the second half. That is an opportunity for people to expand leads. If you look back, usually what happens right before half tends to have an outcome on the game. That's why we call it the swing eight.  I tend to make sure that the most important thing is that we don't give the ball back to the other team with the opportunity to score points. I think that's very important. There's always 30 minutes to go. There's 30 minutes left in the game. So if you do something to critically hurt yourself before half you've really put yourself in jeopardy for the next 30 minutes. … It's not a conservative approach. I think it's just smart football. It's kind of like a doctor. The first thing we need to do is do no harm. And then balance the ability to attack downfield.”

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman dissects the significance of East St. Louis High’s Burden heading to Columbia. Also, happy birthday shoutouts to Keith Hernandez and Snoop Dogg. And, as always, Hochman chooses a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat!

Watch the replay of Burden's announcement here

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