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Mizzou's Crockett fueled by last year's arrest, suspension

Missouri Tennessee Football

Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden (7) tries to stop Missouri running back Damarea Crockett (16 during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Brianna Paciorka/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

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COLUMBIA, MO. • The breakout star of Missouri’s 2016 football season was nowhere near Memorial Stadium in the game that was supposed to be his biggest platform.

Freshman running back Damarea Crockett, already past the 1,000-yard milestone by last fall’s finale, had to watch Mizzou’s comeback win over Arkansas from home as part of his one-game suspension last Nov. 25. Earlier that week, Crockett was arrested for possession of marijuana in a parked car on Mizzou’s campus.

Four months later, in his first interview since the arrest and suspension, Crockett said Tuesday his late-night mistake has fueled his offseason.

“It made me a completely different person,” he said after Mizzou’s fourth spring practice. “It’s changed me for the good and made me a way better person and a football player. It made my focus that much stronger and will make my comeback that much stronger, too.”

Just hours after Crockett returned to Columbia from his Nov. 19 record-breaking performance at Tennessee he was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in a vehicle on a campus parking lot past 4 a.m. He had just rushed for a Mizzou freshman record 225 yards in the Tigers’ loss in Knoxville, Tenn., and was less than a week away from playing his home-state school in the final game of the season. Crockett, a native of Little Rock, Ark., was eager to play Arkansas, a school that didn’t gave him a scholarship offer in high school.

The Tigers rallied without their leading rusher, showing some late-season resolve with a 28-24 win.

“It was rough seeing my team out there and I’m not out there,” Crockett said. “It was a mistake, and I let my team down. I’ve apologized to them and Mizzou as a whole. We’ve moved past that.”

At the time coach Barry Odom was visibly frustrated with the freshman’s mistake but has since been impressed with Crockett’s preparation for his sophomore season.

“He’s a driven kid anyway, very, very motivated,” Odom said. “He’s attacked the offseason like I hoped he would. He wants to have a better sophomore year than he did freshman season. He’s determined to do that in all walks of his life.”

Crockett rushed for a Mizzou freshman record 1,062 yards last season despite not playing in the final game and getting only two touches in MU’s season-opening loss at West Virginia. He had two more games with single-digit carries, against Georgia and Florida. Otherwise, he was among the SEC’s most efficient rushers. His 6.9 yards per carry was third among SEC running backs with at least 50 carries. Among SEC backs, Crockett was second with 7.3 yards per carry in conference play.

That’s not good enough for what Crockett expects this season, when he’ll likely continue to trade carries with senior Ish Witter and, possibly, junior Nate Strong, who’s currently suspended for violating team rules.

“Honestly, just to top my freshman year there’s nothing I can do but put in more work,” Crockett said. “The way I put it in my head is there’s no steps backward. You can only go forward. You only put more weight on the bar. You only get faster. You only get heavier. You only get stronger.

Crockett’s playing weight last season drifted between 220-225 pounds, he said, but he believes he can push 230 without losing his speed and agility. With Witter resting a surgically repaired shoulder and Strong still suspended, Crockett is clearly the No. 1 backfield option this spring but figures to see limited reps with the depth thin for spring scrimmages.

Missouri is one of only two teams in the nation with a returning 3,000-yard passer in quarterback Drew Lock, a 1,000-yard receiver in J’Mon Moore and a 1,000-yard rusher in Crockett. This spring, coaches want Crockett to have a better understanding of MU’s offense when the season begins in the fall and sharpen his pass protection, a requirement in Mizzou’s system and a big reason Witter saw the field on third downs last year.

“I don’t expect anything less than being great,” Crockett said. “That’s what I’m holding myself accountable to. If you’re not trying to be the best, why are you playing?”

DEFENSIVE END OUT

Sophomore defensive end Franklin Agbasimere will miss the rest of spring practices while recovering from foot surgery, Odom said. Agbasimere was working on the move from linebacker to defensive end this spring. He should be cleared from the injury in early June, Odom said.

Also sitting out drills Tuesday were two returning starters on the offensive line, guard Kevin Pendleton (sprained foot) and center Samson Bailey (concussion protocol). Odom expected both back by Saturday’s practice if not Thursday.

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