COLUMBIA, Mo. – The first edition of college football’s early signing period kicked off Wednesday morning to much fanfare. Sixteen players inked with Missouri by the end of the day, solidifying their college choice eight months before the 2018 season starts in September.

The Tigers collected heavy on speed with their signees so far. Five of Wednesday’s signees are wide receivers, two are running backs and two are defensive backs.

Missouri also had two offensive linemen sign, two defensive ends and three linebackers.

“Woke up this morning, and it’s almost like Christmas came early,” coach Barry Odom said after the team’s practice session Wednesday afternoon. “… I really like where we’re at with the group we got in so far today. I think it matches a lot of the areas we needed to hit positionally.”

The Tigers keyed in on wide receivers, a position that it struck out on in its 2017 class. Da’Ron Davis didn’t qualify academically out of high school. O’shae Clark was transferred before the season after being suspended during fall camp.

But the 2018 class looked to remedy that through sheer numbers at wide receiver. One of the most intriguing prospects in the class is 6-foot-3 wide receiver Harry Ballard III, who signed Wednesday at Kirkwood High School. The former McCluer North standout didn’t qualify after signing with the Tigers in 2016 and spent one season at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.

“You would like to lean on that experience that he’s gained,” Odom said. “He’s an athletic kid we’ve known about for a long time. The process for him is to finish up what he’s got to do academically, and as soon as he can, get in the playbook. There’s going to be an opportunity this year.”

The four other wide receivers who signed Wednesday feature a diverse range of playing styles, from the 6-2, lanky Kam Scott to the 5-10 slot speedster Dominic Gicinto of Raytown.

“Feel really good about how they’re going to fit into what we’re doing on that side of the ball,” Odom said.

Missouri’s crop of defensive ends was highlighted by 6-4, 245-pound Blue Springs native Daniel Parker Jr. Parker excelled on the offensive and defensive lines in high school, but has been projected as a defensive end throughout the recruiting process.

Tigers defensive line coach Brick Haley – who recruited Parker – would like to keep it that way.

“You gotta have dibs on your own,” Haley said. “Sad dog that don’t wag its own tail.”

Trajan Jeffcoat, a 6-3, 220-pound prospect from Columbia, S.C., added depth at defensive end Wednesday.

Geographically, the Tigers went back to the fertile, familiar grounds of Texas for a majority of Wednesday’s signees. Seven hail from the Lone Star State. Missouri also had two players come from Florida.

Previously, the only football signing period was in February. There still is a signing period in February, but now the December signing period has taken priority as the one that really matters.

“During the process, it was kind of awkward talking to recruits to get them to understand this was the biggest day,” Tigers defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “Feb. 7 this year is not going to be as big of a deal.”

Five players that were committed to Missouri – defensive tackle Antar Thompson, linebacker Jatorian Hansford, safety Tyrus Wheat and cornerbacks Vincent Gray and Chris Mills – did not sign Wednesday. The early signing period ends Friday, but if those players aren’t signed by then, it could create an awkward situation between the player and the school to which they are committed.

“Committed I guess is a loose word at this point,” Odom said. “We’ll actively recruit them. It also opens up a window. You see who is really available, so we’ll have some tough decisions to make moving forward.”

Proponents of the early signing day support the fact that it allows players to make official visits (and coaches to begin scouting players) during the spring and summer before their junior year. Odom wasn’t thrilled about that development.

“Oh, man,” Odom said, exasperated. “Spring recruiting – think about that. Bringing a kid on campus, he’s 16 years old, a lot of times in their junior year, and you want them to have a college experience? I know what I was doing at 16. I didn’t have any business having a college experience at the age of 16.

“The health of the game, we got to make sure we really evaluate things. We’ll have an opportunity to bring kids in next spring on official visits, and I guess we’ll go to the PG movies down the street and get some popcorn and a soda. You’re talking to kids and they’re throwing out terms – gosh dang, they’re juniors in high school and you want them to make a decision. I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t know about official visits in the spring.”

Odom said the early evaluation is hard on coaches, who in the spring will have to go on the road recruiting and then return to Columbia to host recruits on official visits. That’s a process they are already doing in December.

But the early signing process is now a tenet of college football, a part of it like bands or bowl games.

“You can see across the country teams are trying to fill up these classes so you don’t have people change their minds,” Walters said. “... It’s worked out great for us. I feel like we have a really good class coming in.”