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August 27, 2011
They couldn't be any more different, but senior tight end Andrew Jones and redshirt freshman receiver Jimmie Hunt share a common goal:
For Jones, his time in the purgatory of obscurity started after his freshman year in 2008. That year, Jones slid into the tight end spot after incumbent starter Chase Coffman was hampered by injuries at the end of the season. Because Missouri's offensive progressions didn't change, Jones ended the year with 20 catches for 147 yards, including a high of seven catches for 61 yards against Iowa State. It seemed natural that the former four-star recruit from Smithville, Mo., would seamlessly slide into Coffman's vacancy, without missing a beat.
That wouldn't be the case. Jones caught nine passes for 50 yards during the Gabbert Years. As a junior, he caught one pass for seven yards, and registered four DNPs (according to CFBStats.com). Meanwhile, the tight end position was locked down by classmate Michael Egnew.
For Hunt, his time outside the spotlight is much shorter. He enrolled late during the summer of 2010, transcript issues delaying his arrival. When he finally arrived on campus, he stood out from the start. He was one of the biggest stories of the preseason camp, and it looked like the word "redshirt" would never enter his vocabulary.
That wouldn't be the case. Hunt injured his hamstring late in camp, causing him to miss time before the season. Precocious, but green because of his delayed entrance, the coaching staff decided to sit Hunt and allow him to prepare for the 2011 season. Meanwhile, he watched Marcus Lucas make a small impact as a freshman before breaking out in this year's camp.
There's been a noticeable change in both players. Jones' re-emergence began at the beginning of camp -- his last shot at success on the gridiron.
"This is my last chance to ever play football again, to ever put pads on," Jones said, aware that the NFL most likely won't come calling. "I don't want to waste any time. I don't want to waste a day.
At the surface, the bruising Jones looks miscast in Missouri's troupe of receivers. He's a utilitarian truck in a garage of sports cars. But, an attitude adjustment re-invigorated the tight end. The nagging injuries of sophomore Eric Waters moved Jones back up the depth chart, and he's made the most of the opportunity. In three scrimmages, Jones caught 12 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, spending most of his time with the second-team offense but providing a consistent pair of hands for the rotating cast of back-up quarterbacks. On one play, Jones looked like a visage of Missouri's former tight ends as he made a running, diving catch deep over the middle of the field.
With most of his big catches, Jones' excitement is obvious. Receptions are followed by loud roars, a sign of Jones' re-birth.
"It's been tough, because I'm really competitive," Jones said. "I want to play and help the team win, however I can. Anything I can do to help the team, I'm definitely going to do.
Hunt's shift has been more recent. All along, his talent is obvious, but his level of experience is raw. This fact is signified best in the way he runs. Lucas and fellow freshman Bud Sasser are easy striders, gliding downfield after the reception as if they're skating on ice. Hunt's style is a model of inefficiency, bouncing and bobbing through traffic, a whirlwind of elbows and knees flying chaotically around the center of the storm.
That raw ability doesn't lend itself to consistency. That's been Hunt's main problem this August. Lucas's steady hands and penchant for spectacular catches made everyone take notice. But for all of Hunt's promising flashes, those moments of clarity have been cancelled out by busted routes or dropped passes.
The self-admitted problem for Hunt has been focus.
"I was pretty much out of the loop," Hunt said. "I wasn't focused like I should have. My practices were kind of up and down. I started out great, and then it seemed like I started going on a roller coaster ride."
Mired on the depth chart, Hunt said he went into August's final scrimmage with a simple goal of continued focus. On Thursday, he had his most impressive workout, returning to the form from his brief but bright 2010 camp. He caught three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, which included a 60-yard bomb from Jimmy Costello in which Hunt broke free from his man and glided under Costello's throw deep down field.
There were still moments of his rawness. The very next offensive play, Hunt dropped a quick pass near the line of scrimmage. Still, Hunt said it was a day he needed as the season draws near.
"One route at a time," Hunt said. "Instead of thinking about the last play, I'm thinking ahead at the next play. That play, that moment.
Do Hunt and Jones figure to have breakout years in 2011? Probably not. But both said they're OK with that. They're more focused on finding their role, whatever it may be, and sticking to it.
"Whenever I'm not doing anything, I feel like I'm hurting the team," Jones said. "Hopefully this year, I can just put myself in place on special teams or on offense, where I can put myself in position to help the team."
"That's one thing I'm going to show from here on out -- my 'A' game," Hunt said. "I want to show that I am a very good contender for this spot."
The rise from obscurity to the spotlight is a slow process. But, for Hunt and Jones, shifts in attitude have made that journey easier.
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