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November 8, 2013

Proving a point

Since 2010, eight true freshman have played for Missouri in their first year on campus. Only three of those came on defense, and two were cornerbacks.

Aarion Penton is the latest Missouri cornerback to play as a true freshman, the third since the 2007 recruiting class. He joins Carl Gettis and current cornerback E.J. Gaines in that regard, each freshman year separated by three years.

Gettis arrived in 2007, a running back by trade out of high school that was moved to cornerback. He played in all 14 games that season, starting ten, finishing with 49 total tackles, two for loss and one interception,

Gaines was a member of the 2010 class, the highest-ranked class under Gary Pinkel. He played in all 13 games, registering 26 tackles and one pass break-up.

In that mold, Penton arrived in Columbia in 2013, a similarly ranked recruit to Gettis and Gaines. He's played in all nine games, including two starts when Gaines went down with a quadriceps injury. Penton has 11 tackles, one for loss and one interception.

What differences they've had in playing time and statistical output as freshmen, Gettis, Gaines and Penton have had one thing in common:

They're easy case studies on the recruiting trail.

"Absolutely," cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said. "We've built our program on kids like Aarion, and Aarion is the most recent one, but we've had others.

"But, it gives you clout, when you go into a young man's house and say, 'Hey, look. If you come to Mizzou, you're going to have unbelievable opportunities if you just come in and do the things we ask you to do. If you're capable, you're going to play.'

"He hasn't been the first, he won't be the last."

Penton backs up Ford's claims. He said when Ford visited with him before he decided to commit to the Tigers, there was one simple recruiting pitch.

"If you come to play and do what you do out there on the field, then you will play," Penton remembered Ford saying.

That's what motivated Penton when he arrived in Columbia, and eventually led to him avoiding a redshirt.

"Since day one when I stepped out here on the field and in the weight room, I gave 110-percent and it carried on," Penton said. "I guess the coaches seen it and they just gave me a chance."

The conversation on those recruiting trip also pointed to the case studies. Gaines' name was a common topic -- not that Penton needed a reminder.

"That's the main reason (he knew Ford's pitch was the truth), because when Coach Ford told me that EJ played as a freshman and then he continued to play and how he's a captain," Penton said.

Four years removed from his recruitment, Gaines said he remembers a similar pitch with Carl Gettis used as the example.

"My freshman year, I came in with four corners, and I think all of them saw that a freshman came in and played at cornerback, and I think that helps," Gaines said. "With me coming up, and now Aarion coming up and playing, it can help."

That's where Penton stands now. His presence on the field hasn't gone unnoticed in St. Louis. Three-star athlete Raymond Wingo from St. Louis University High School is a friend of Penton's, and he cited Penton's play as a reason why Missouri is one of his final schools after going overlooked in the summer.

After knowing the reputation of Gaines before he arrived in Columbia, Penton said he's aspiring to have the same impact, both on the current team and the future team.

"I mean, not to be big headed or anything, but that's what I wanted to do with staying home from St. Louis," Penton said. "I wanted to represent my home state and show them, people from St. Louis and Missouri can put on for their home state and compete against kids from other states. I kind of thought that we got a good opportunity with this class that I'm a part of in 2013."

St. Louis has always been an interesting battle ground for Missouri recruiting. With a lot of talent in a large metropolitan area, in addition to being in proximity to a few other FBS universities, Penton said he hopes more recruits buy into what the in-state Tigers are selling.

"I'd just tell them to take a visit," Penton said. "You get five officials. There's tons of colleges out there, but you being in your home state, take it in your home state. People talk about Alabama and stuff, but mainly they're recruiting from Alabama. It's trying something new, but it's a family atmosphere here. If you come, you'll love it."

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