COLUMBIA, MO. • Derek Dooley has 12 opportunities this fall to prove he was the right choice to run Missouri’s offense and coach Barry Odom’s quarterbacks.
He’s already convinced one person.
Before taking an official visit to Mizzou last weekend, three-star quarterback Connor Bazelak from Dayton, Ohio, had already seen the campuses and met the coaches at Duke, Georgia, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Purdue. He holds offers from those schools as well as nine other Power 5 programs. Nobody’s sales pitch resonated more than Missouri’s. And a major part of that pitch is the new offensive coordinator and his vision.
“I went with my gut feeling, went with my heart,” Bazelak said in a phone interview Monday, the day after he announced his verbal commitment to MU. “I felt comfortable there. It’s a great opportunity to play, coming in after Drew Lock and get an opportunity to play early and compete for the job.”
Bazelak fills a major hole in a recruiting class that will continue to take shape this summer. Odom and his new offensive coordinator need a quarterback to replenish the depth, another contender to push for the starting role in the year 2019 A.D. — After Drew. As it looks now, 2019 figures to be the first Missouri season since 2002 without a clear line of succession to the next franchise quarterback. From 2003-18, the starting QB was established heading well into the season. After winning the job shortly before the 2002 season, Brad Smith was the starter through 2005. Then it was Chase Daniel’s run from 2006-08, Blaine Gabbert from 2009-10, James Franklin from 2011-13, Maty Mauk in 2014-15 — until Mauk was suspended midway through 2015 —and Lock from 2016-18.
For now, there’s no obvious heir apparent. The 6-4, 205-pound Bazelak wants in on the competition.
“The coaches have compared me a little to Drew’s game,” he said. “I’m a pocket passer, but I’m able to extend plays with my feet. I’ll throw the ball around a lot and I’m pretty accurate. I think I’m good leading teams, managing games, doing all that, too.”
Bazelak hasn’t produced gaudy passing statistics at Archbishop Alter High, but there’s a reasonable explanation: For years the team’s base offense has been oriented around the wishbone formation. He’s often taking snaps under center with three other backs in the backfield. Often but not always. His sophomore and junior year highlights show Bazelak passing out of one-back shotgun formations with three and four receivers wide. As a junior he attempted only 134 passes in 11 games, throwing for 1,097 yards. His clips reveal a strong presence in the pocket but enough freelancing ability to make throws downfield when the pocket collapses.
“Being in the wishbone, obviously I don’t get to throw the ball as much,” he said. “But I think it’s been good for me. It makes me think a lot more and just the school I go to is a winning program.”
Former Notre Dame and Florida quarterback Malik Zaire starred in the same offense at Alter in 2012. The same school has also produced former All-Pro NFL center Nick Mangold (Ohio State), former All-American linebacker Chris Borland (Wisconsin), New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney (N.C. State) and the NBA’s Paxson brothers, Jim (Dayton) and John (Notre Dame).
There are three chief reasons why Bazelak’s pledge is important:
1. Mizzou needs to restock the QB depth with talent.
It’s not a given that Lock’s successor is on the current roster. Micah Wilson has some Division I action. Taylor Powell made everyone notice his play in the spring. Lindsey Scott Jr. came to Mizzou to become Lock’s replacement. But there’s no reason a true freshman can’t enter the mix, especially if he enrolls in January, and push for the job. Bazelak said he hasn’t decided if he’ll graduate from high school early and enroll at MU in January but he definitely plans to sign his letter of intent on the first signing date in December.
Bazelak is the top-rated quarterback in the talent-rich state of Ohio for 2019, as rated by Rivals.com. In 13 of the past 16 years, the top-rated Ohio quarterback signed with a Power 5 program, a list that includes Joe Burrow (Ohio State, now LSU), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), Zaire (Notre Dame, Florida), Cardale Jones (Ohio State), Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Brian Hoyer (Michigan State) and Brady Quinn (Notre Dame).
2. Quarterbacks commit early.
This time of year it’s slim pickins’ for the top high school quarterbacks. Of the top 50 QBs in the 2019 class, as rated by 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, 44 are already committed to a school. Eight other SEC schools have a top-50 quarterback committed, including Alabama with two. In other words, you better find one now before the shelves are empty. A year ago, MU landed James Foster, but by the time he backed out of his pledge, it was too late to make up ground on the few uncommitted high school quarterbacks in the market.
If you look at what we’ll call Mizzou’s franchise quarterbacks, the last three all committed in the spring or summer before their senior season:
Lock: 2015 recruit, committed April 10, 2014
Mauk: 2012 recruit, committed July 7, 2011
Franklin: 2010 recruit, March 15, 2009
3. The Dooley Factor
This is a shot in the arm for Dooley and his credibility in his new role as coordinator and quarterback’s coach. Dooley was Bazelak’s primary recruiter, and the quarterback came away impressed with the new leader of Mizzou’s offense — and those NFL credentials paid off in the sales pitch.
“He seems like he’s obviously studied the game for a while and knows a lot about it,” Bazelak said. “He brings an NFL type of offense to Missouri, and that’ll really fit me and help me a lot so I can hopefully reach my goal to be in the NFL. … He seems like a great teacher. He’s kind of laid back, just being around him outside of football. But he gets after it on the football side.”
Robin Pingeton picked up some size on the recruiting trail and didn’t have to go far. Micah Linthacum, a 6-4 forward from Jefferson City, three-star rated 12th-best post player in 2019. She’s the daughter of Larry Linthacum, a former Mizzou tight end from 1988-90, and now the superintendent of Jefferson City Public Schools. … New Missouri softball coach Larissa Anderson officially announced her first staff addition Monday, hiring Sara Michalowski, her assistant back at Hofstra. Over the course of two days, shortstop Braxton Burnside announced she’s transferring to Arkansas while infielder Rylee Pierce, a second-team All-SEC pick this year, will transfer to Arizona. Third baseman Amanda Sanchez has also requested permission to contact other schools and could be headed to a Pac-12 program, a source confirmed. Sanchez led the Tigers in home runs (12), RBIs (37) and total bases (104) and led MU’s regulars in batting average (.367), on-base percentage (.500) and slugging (.671). Pierce hit .318 with eight homers and 23 RBIs, while Burnside hit .275 and drove in 28 runs, led the Tigers with 146 assists and 16 errors.