COLUMBIA, Mo. – Damarea Crockett burst through the line at Missouri’s spring practice Saturday and charged into the open field.
Most of the time, in full 11-on-11 drills, coaches will whistle the play dead once a ball carrier enters the secondary. Not this time.
Safety Cam Hilton chased in vain as Crockett motored 75 yards down the middle of the field. A whistle blew, but Crockett was too close by then. His momentum carried him across the goalline.
Before Crockett turned back towards the huddle, he shouted at the turf in the promised land.
“I missed you so much, end zone!”
Crockett’s sophomore season was derailed by a shoulder injury he suffered Oct. 10 at Georgia, which kept him out for the rest of the season. His last touchdown was Sept. 23 against Auburn, but his last rushing touchdown was in last year’s season opener Sept. 2.
Still, Crockett might have found the end zone during practice in December as he pushed to ready himself for the Tigers’ appearance at the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27.
Crockett was a full participant in practices leading up to the game, and he was a full participant in Missouri’s warmup at the game in Houston. In hindsight, he said he thought he was going to play.
But when the Tigers ran through the tunnel to take the field for good, Crockett was in a hoodie and sweats.
How close was he to playing in the game?
“Man ... I was a call from momma close,” Crockett said.
While Crockett was focused on beating the Longhorns – “I was thinking like, ‘Let’s go freaking win this game. Everybody hates Texas,’” he said – his mother was looking out for her son’s future.
She called Crockett and told him an injury could set him back even longer. Crockett didn’t want to hear it, but he ultimately respected his mother’s wishes.
Fully healthy again, Crockett sits atop a deep running back pool on Missouri’s spring roster. Larry Rountree III will return after piling up 703 yards and six touchdowns last year as a freshman. Dawson Downing returns after getting mop-up work as a walk-on last year, and Isaiah Miller could feature after redshirting as a freshman last season.
Crockett gashed the defense multiple times Saturday besides just his euphoric touchdown run, but he said his confidence isn’t quite back to where it was before the injury.
“I’m not there yet, but I’m extremely close,” Crockett said. “I’m getting back. My shoulder is finally better. I’m getting comfortable again and getting used to this new offense. Once I get that back, I’ll be feeling great again.”
That’s a reminder that quarterback Drew Lock isn’t the only one getting used to a new offense. Crockett and Lock said that new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has taken it easy this spring, using the practices to slowly bring the Tigers up to speed.
It figures to be a largely experimental period.
“We’re gonna run a lot of different plays this spring. Some of them will click, some of them won’t click,” Lock said. “... We’re going to come together at the end of the spring and really put it together on what we want to run.”
On top of one of the nation’s most explosive quarterbacks and two strong running backs, Missouri will also return all five starters on the offensive line.
“It’s a little pressure (for us), but at the same time they make our job so much easier, too,” right tackle Paul Adams said. ”(In Crockett,) you’ve got a guy who lost like six games last year, but you saw what he did his freshman year. The man can run.
“Larry last year was incredible. He’s only going to get stronger, faster these next couple months heading to the season. Drew is just Drew. It’s so exciting to see how it all pans out.”