For the final three games of the 2004 season, Matt Hoenes stood on the Missouri sideline and watched a placekicker take his spot as Missouri's punter. In February, he looked on as the Tigers went out and awarded a scholarship to a high school kid out of Plano, Texas whose job it was to come in and keep Hoenes on that sideline.
The buzz coming into fall camp, at least around the special teams, was all about that high school kid, Matt Casaday. Hoenes was, at best, an afterthought to Tiger fans.
And now, less than two weeks prior to the Tigers' season opener and just three days before the depth chart is all but set in stone, Hoenes is Mizzou's starting punter.
"This has been something I've really wanted for several years," said the junior from Branson. "So whatever happens, until I'm physically unable, I'm going to be out here trying and pushing and try to get better."
Hoenes has gotten so much better that he has a virtual stranglehold on that starting position. Casaday has struggled through his first collegiate camp due, at least in part, to a sore foot. Adam Crossett is back to handling the kickoff and field goal duties.
The start of the downward spiral came in Lincoln, Nebraska last season. Hoenes had one punt blocked for a touchdown. He dropped another snap, leading to a second Nebraska touchdown. Until a late fourth quarter run, those were the only two times the Huskers crossed the goal line in a 24-3 win.
"It was disappointing," Hoenes said. "The whole game, that's terrible, terrible, play. I work hard and never want that to happen again...That was my fault for not getting the job done at Nebrsaka and it was a good decision on Coach Pinkel's part. To lose your job is always disappointing, but that was part of my motivation this spring and this summer is to just be able to try to redeem myself."
"He's fought through it pretty well," said head coach Gary Pinkel. "I just felt like we needed to make a change after that. He's a very courageous guy and a great competitor. You don't like going through things like that, but I would suggest that he grew from it without question."
Of course, as is normal with Hoenes, he hasn't fought through the last year without setbacks. He had shoulder surgery in December. In February, on his first day being able to lift weights, he dropped a squat bar on his finger and nearly had to have it amputated. The injury caused him to miss a good portion of spring ball. He had to hear about Casaday all summer. All of this while learning that his sister, recently returned from a second tour of duty in Iraq, has chosen to re-enlist and will return to the Middle East after the first of the year.
"The last year and a half or so have been pretty crazy," he said, understating the obvious. "I've been pretty lucky and blessed to still be here and doing what I'm doing."
Hoenes' improvement over the summer has allowed the Tigers to have Crossett focus solely on the placekicking duties. Like his counterpart, the sophomore says he now feels much more comfortable than he did a year ago.
"I think getting a scholarship at the end of last season, that was personally a pretty big confidence booster for me," Crossett said. "Just knowing that people have confidence in you; when other people are confident in your ability, it helps you have confidence in your own ability so I feel like I've come pretty far in that aspect."
Unlike Hoenes, Crossett ended the 2004 season on a serious upswing. Handed the placekicking job after a loss to Kansas State, the redshirt freshman lined up for a 25-yard field goal in the snow in Ames, Iowa. In overtime, no less. He had never made a collegiate field goal in his life, missing from 44 and 46 yards earlier in the season.
"Surprisingly, yes," Crossett said when asked if he was confident getting ready for what turned out to be the game-winning kick. "I got up there and looked up and I didn't think there was any way I was going to miss that kick. It looked like it was money in the bank to me."
Crossett showed off his leg in Missouri's second scrimmage of the fall last Saturday. He hammered through a 53-yarder with a couple of yards to spare.
"He's jumping all over the place. He's capable of doing that. He's got a leg, he can go further back than that," Pinkel said. "Crossett, he's capable of doing it. He's capable of doing it deeper than that. Hopefully, he'll get some confidence."
While Pinkel was somewhat surprised at Crossett's celebration, the kicker wasn't even the one who had the strongest reaction to the kick.
"Oh, God, I almost fainted," said Tony Temple. "It was great. I gave him a big hug."
Of course, it's all well and good in practice. Nobody ever hit a game-winner in practice in August.
"I want to get better at it and I want to do good throughout the season," Pinkel said. "That's what I want."
No problem there according to Crossett.
"I didn't even get all of it."
PowerMizzou.com will be your most complete source for news throughout fall camp. We will be at every practice and update you on the day's happenings live. Stay tuned for a photo gallery and interviews from each day of camp. To talk about it with other Tiger fans, visit our premium forum, The Tigers' Lair.