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August 29, 2012

Finish the run

Kendial Lawrence lived up to the nickname his grandmother gave him for his first two years at Missouri.

That wasn't necessarily a good thing.

"Beetle" was a jitterbug as a freshman and sophomore, juking and shifting in an attempt to avoid tackles. There were some good moments -- 77 yards on ten carries in this third game as a freshman, 96 on 6 in a loss to Texas Tech as a sophomore. But, largely, Lawrence's first two years were devoid of the electricity he displayed in high school at Rockwall-Heath in Texas.

Before last season, the offensive coaching staff had a simple demand for Lawrence:

Finish the run.

Instead of dodging defenders in the hope of breaking a big run, offensive coordinator David Yost wanted Lawrence to start running through first contact, gaining three, four, maybe five more yards because of momentum and power.

"I'd been looking at film, and I noticed I'd been shying away from guys," Lawrence said. "I was getting a blow delivered to me instead."

Lawrence's mentality began to change before last season, and he did well enough in that preseason camp to earn the starting job. But, a fractured leg suffered early sidelined him for the early part of the season. By the time he was healthy, Henry Josey happened and it appeared Lawrence's career would end as an afterthought, a complimentary back to his dynamic teammate.

Even after Josey's brutal knee injury, Lawrence's strong finish to the season took a backseat to his teammate's recovery. Lawrence finished with 371 yards over the final four games of 2011. That included his first two 100-yard rushing games (106 against Texas, 108 against North Carolina). Yet it wasn't the same hold-your-breath running that Josey displayed.

Lawrence simply began to finish his runs.

The momentum that Lawrence displayed on the field at the end of 2011 has carried over into the start of 2012. Gary Pinkel has noticed it, too.

"Kendial Lawrence has had as good a camp as we have had from a running back here," Pinkel began, matter-of-factly, "and hopefully he can do some great things for us and be a difference maker."

Lawrence focused on increasing his weight while maintaining his speed for his senior year, to be able to take more a pounding for the entire year. He knows that by not avoiding contact, he'll take more hits over the course of this season.

"I've been around here going on four years, and it's a learning process," Lawrence said. "You go and watch film on so many guys, and you watch film on yourself also. You just get to a certain point where you say, 'Okay, we're not going to take this anymore. We're going to deliver the blow. We're going be that little guy who packs a lot of power and who can push forward on the guys on the defense.'"

Lawrence's career changed because of three words. Now, he has one more season to finish the run.


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