COLUMBIA, Mo. • Aldon Smith’s college coach is looking for a silver lining behind Smith’s recent troubles.
Missouri’s Gary Pinkel knows too well the kind of adversity the San Francisco 49ers linebacker is facing after Friday’s arrest for driving under the influence. The Associated Press said Smith has checked into an in-patient rehab facility to treat substance abuse. Pinkel, who said he sent Smith a text message Monday, hopes his former player makes the most out of his indefinite leave of absence from the team.
“This can be a real positive for him and allow him to continue to have a great career and be a great team player like I know he’s capable of being,” Pinkel said Monday.
“I offer myself to him anytime, to talk to him like I do all my players if they’re having anything they’re going through. This can be something that turns and can be very, very positive. I think that’s the approach he’ll take. We’re here for him. Any player that ever played here, we’re here for them.”
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Smith, a two-time All-Big 12 defensive end for the Tigers in 2009-10, was arrested in San Jose, Calif., on suspicion of DUI and possession of marijuana after crashing his truck in a single-vehicle accident. It was the third alcohol-related incident in 20 months for the All-Pro. Smith was arrested for DUI in January 2012 in Miami, a charge that was reduced to reckless driving. Smith is also named in two lawsuits for allegedly firing shots at a house party he hosted in the summer of 2012, during which he suffered multiple stab wounds.
Smith, who turns 24 Wednesday, released a statement Monday, saying he’s taking a leave of absence to address his health. “I am sorry that I have affected my team, my family and the organization,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to handle this situation the best way possible.”
Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, one of Smith’s closest friends still on the team, spoke passionately about his former teammate Monday.
“It’s kind of hard because he’s a brother to me,” Ealy said. “He taught me everything I know as far as the next level in college. And not even football. … My heart goes out to him. He knows I’m behind him 110 percent. I know what he’s capable of and I know when he gets back to football everything else will be erased and disappear.”
“We know what kind of guy he is, honestly,” added receiver Marcus Lucas. “He made a couple mistakes. He’s a great player. I think he’ll be able to get his head on straight and move on.”
Pinkel said Smith never had any similar incidents during his three years at Mizzou. Smith entered the NFL draft after the 2010 season, his redshirt sophomore year.
Pinkel, who pleaded guilty to a DUI charge two years ago, struck a sympathetic tone toward his troubled former star.
“You look at any player who’s 22, 23 years old and has tremendous success, that’s difficult to handle,” Pinkel said. “You become very, very vulnerable in many ways. Maybe in ways you don’t even understand. He’s not the first one who’s ever struggled with those things. He won’t be the last.”
GATTI ON CALL
Pinkel isn’t sure if injured left guard Max Copeland will be back in the lineup for Saturday’s game against Arkansas State after he was a late scratch for Saturday’s 45-28 win at Indiana. Copeland suffered a high ankle sprain against Toledo Sept. 7 but practiced last week with hopes of starting against the Hoosiers. But before the game, the coaches decided to go with their backup plan, Anthony Gatti, who’s also the team’s backup left tackle.
Gatti played well enough Saturday that if Copeland is cleared to return against Arkansas State, both could rotate at the position, Pinkel said.
“He still has to be ready to play tackle also,” Pinkel said of Gatti, the redshirt junior from Parkway North.
Missouri’s coaches planned to give backup quarterback Maty Mauk his predetermined series at the start of the second quarter at Indiana, but the redshirt freshman never saw the field. The reason?
“In the heat of the battle,” Pinkel said, “we just forgot.”
After the Tigers (3-0) jumped out to a 14-0 lead, Indiana countered with two quick scores to open the second quarter, around the time Mizzou’s coaches hoped to insert Mauk. Instead, as they headed to the locker room ahead 28-14, Pinkel said he and quarterbacks coach Andy Hill realized their gaffe.
“When (the score) flipped on us with those 14 points, we were just so focused that I forgot to do it,” Pinkel said. “Maty was great about it afterwards. He’s practicing well. We still want to get him in.”
Ealy, whose interception return for a touchdown pushed the Tigers ahead 28-14 at halftime Saturday, was named the Southeastern Conference defensive lineman of the week.
With 1:57 left in the second quarter, Ealy snagged Nate Sudfeld’s pass at the line of scrimmage and returned it 49 yards for his first career touchdown. In three games, the junior has five passes defended (four breakups, one interception), which ranks 26th nationally and leads all defensive linemen. Two weeks ago, Mizzou defensive end Markus Golden earned the same honor after returning an interception against Toledo.
EVENING KICKOFF FOR VANDERBILT
Missouri’s Oct. 5 Southeastern Conference opener at Vanderbilt will kick off at 6:30 p.m. and will air on Comcast Sports South, a station that’s not widely available in the state of Missouri.
Saturday’s Missouri home game against Arkansas State is being televised on CSS, but seven in-state affiliates will also broadcast the game. In St. Louis, KPLR will televise the 6:30 p.m. game against the Red Wolves (2-2). MU could make similar arrangements for the Vanderbilt game.