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Missouri Spring Football

Missouri head coach Barry Odom calls out a player during an NCAA college football intra-squad spring game Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

June has traditionally been a quiet time for football recruiting at Mizzou, but since the start of the month Barry Odom has nailed down six verbal commitments for the 2020 recruiting class. That’s nearly one every three days.

A year ago, Mizzou had only four commitments heading into July. In 2017, just five. The Tigers have 10 for 2020, the latest being wide receiver Maureese Wren, of Tyler, Texas, Junior College, who committed to the Tigers on Wednesday.

Odom has made notable headway in the St. Louis area, landing six pledges from local prospects since last fall, including two this month. Odom has no shortage of reasons for the surge in STL.

“Number one, it’s the continuing work of building relationships,” Odom said Wednesday. “Staff continuity and recruiting by position has helped us. Also getting guys on campus earlier. All of those factors go into it. The vision I’ve talked about now for three years, (recruits are) seeing some of that take place and they understand the things they can achieve here.”

For more than a decade, assistant coach Cornell Ford was assigned to recruit the St. Louis area, and while Ford helped land some of the program’s biggest stars during the Gary Pinkel years — from Jeremy Maclin to Blaine Gabbert to Sheldon Richardson — Odom has since gone away from regional recruiting and instead assigns his coaches to recruit their specific position. Offensive line coach Brad Davis has built a presence in the area and last year landed Lutheran North’s Jack Buford and this year secured commitments from Francis Howell’s Drake Heismeyer and Mehlville’s Mitchell Walters. Just last week the Tigers got a commitment from East St. Louis defensive lineman Kevon Billingsley, who cited his relationship with D-line coach Brick Haley as a major factor in his decision.

Ford, meanwhile, has been on a roll landing running backs, getting recent pledges from Dominique Johnson (Crowley, Texas) and Elijah Young (Knoxville, Tenn.)

In his first few years as head coach, Odom cycled through assistant coaches and coordinators but has gradually developed some cohesion on the staff. That means more familiar faces walking through the high school doors in the region and beyond. Odom didn’t sign any St. Louis players in 2017 or 2018 and in the latter class missed on four local four-star targets in Chaminade’s Trevor Trout (USC), Parkway North’s Michael Thompson (Oklahoma), Lutheran North's Ronnie Perkins (Oklahoma) and CBC’s Kamryn Babb (Ohio State). The Tigers made progress in the 2019 class, signing five area players, headlined by Parkway North safety Jalani Williams.

"It took Barry a minute to come in and establish the relationships that he needed to establish in the city to get the pipelines going how they needed to get going,” Lutheran North coach Carl Reed said. “They’ve done a tremendous job. Their commitment to St. Louis has never wavered. Now you’re start to see the plants sprout from the seeds that have been planted."

“If Coach Odom keeps getting athletes out of here, stays at it, it’ll keep getting better for him,” said Trinity Catholic coach Terrence Curry, a former Odom teammate at Mizzou. “They’re doing a way better job and it’s going in the right direction getting St. Louis kids.”

That includes one of the top players to come through Reed’s program, four-star linebacker Antonio Doyle, who committed to the Tigers earlier this month.

NCAA rules prohibit Odom from discussing unsigned recruits by name, but he recognized the program’s recruiting momentum Wednesday — and stopped well short of patting himself on the back.

“As soon as you pause and take a breath there’s someone around the corner waiting to knock you out,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good things going on and a lot of great thing that are going to happen in the next couple weeks.”

“Now we’ve got to keep them (committed) until December,” he added. “That’s a long, long time. A 17-year-old kid makes up his mind in June and then can’t sign until the third week of December. Woe is me, right?”

The self-pity was in jest, but the NCAA’s new accelerated recruiting calendar puts stress on coaches in Odom’s position. Since 2017, recruits can sign letters of intent in December, about six weeks ahead of the traditional February date. They can also begin taking official campus visits in the spring of their junior year in high school. Mizzou now uses the month of January as an evaluation period, during which Odom can’t have in-person contact with high school underclassmen. That means when a junior visits Mizzou in April or May, it’s often the first time he’s met Odom face to face.

“Foundationally, that’s a problem with our sport because the true baseline emphasis we put on recruiting is relationship-building,” he said. “It’s hard to build relationships when you haven’t had a chance to sit down with a kid and really visit in person. … We had recruits in last weekend on official visits and half of them I had only communicated by phone or text. It’s really hard for me to get a great feel for does the kid really, really love ball? Does he want to fit into the culture we have at Mizzou?"

Still, though, Mizzou has adapted on the fly and produced results, at least in the form of non-binding verbal pledges.

“Our staff has done a good job of adjusting the calendar,” Odom said. “It’s been a positive. I wouldn’t say it’s enjoyable, but that’s where we’re at. I don’t see it slowing down.”

MASSEY ON THE WAY

All but one of Mizzou’s newcomers have arrived on campus and joined the team for summer workouts. Kirkwood receiver Maurice Massey is finishing a course and is expected to join the Tigers in July, Odom said.

MU has only one player in the NCAA’s transfer portal, cornerback Terry Petry, who played some as a reserve last year and is likely headed to a junior college closer to his home in Texas, Odom said.

Jalani Williams, MU’s top-rated 2019 recruit, is almost fully recovered from foot surgery and should be cleared for preseason camp in August.

Dave Matter is the Mizzou beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.