HOOVER, Ala. — Even as he boarded the plane in Boone County that flew direct to SEC Media Days, Missouri senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy found a chance to study up.
Acy watched some film, hoping to pick up any detail that can improve his game.
That’s been a consistent habit since his freshman year at Wilmer-Hutchins High School in Dallas, where Acy never played freshman or junior varsity football. The standout saw varsity action before finishing his first semester.
Acy’s demure behavior on high school bus trips included not only watching his highlights as websites like Hudl started to become more popular, but also checking out the best clips from college and professional players he looked up to.
“It got me into more of a zone,” Acy said about those road trips. “I knew every trip we went to, it was a business trip. So I just treated it as such watching some of my favorite players."
Some days it was Charles Woodson, other trips it was Brian Dawkins. But Acy’s biggest gridiron inspiration remains Sean Taylor.
The beloved former Washington Redskins and University of Miami defensive back may be best remembered for his outlandish play that nowadays would dominate conversation in the targeting realm. During Taylor’s NFL rise, he was never seen as a dirty player — he just knew how to shut down receivers more than most and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know about it.
Acy developed an admiration for Taylor shortly before the former Hurricane was killed at his home in the middle of the 2007 season.
“I do remember that day,” Acy said of Taylor’s passing. “I was 9 or 10 and at that time, that’s when I first discovered Sean Taylor. So I had been watching him all the time and it obviously hurt me because he was a great player and he could’ve been in the Hall of Fame by now.
“It sounds kind of weird, but I feel like he takes over me sometimes.”
Acy has only become more dedicated to his craft since those days. Last season, he finished with three interceptions and 30 tackles in 13 starts. He also was second on the team with 10 pass break-ups.
While Acy had impressive performances last year, such as a two-interception game against Tennessee, other moments also stand out to him on his junior-season resume.
Acy mentioned his technique in the Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State wasn’t up to par, and he got called for a pass interference penalty in the regular season that gave Kentucky an untimed down, leading to a loss on the final play.
Even after pulling in second-team conference honors, Acy knows he will need to increase his consistency as a sparkplug for the Tigers’ defense.
“I still have a lot of work to do along with the rest of the secondary. Tell them every day, it's no time to get complacent,” Acy said.
That’s one reason why Acy said he never thought about leaving Missouri as the school was hit with NCAA sanctions in the offseason.
Only one Tiger, Terry Petry, has entered the NCAA transfer portal this year. Missouri head coach Barry Odom said Petry's decision was because of personal reasons, however.
Odom said Monday he expects a big year from Acy.
“DeMarkus has made progress every year,” Odom said. “The experience has helped him a great deal and learning from those experiences, there’s times that he has played at a really, really high level and has lost focus and had to rebound and come back to it. I think mentally, he’s in a better position, the grind of a game on what it takes to play that position.
“I think he's in a much better spot now just because he’s been in the battles. He understands it.”
Part of Acy’s improvement has been watching film with MU defensive assistant David Gibbs, who coached at Texas Tech when Patrick Mahomes was the Red Raiders’ quarterback.
With the current Kansas City Chief and NFL MVP behind center, Texas Tech competed in games that regularly had more than 115 combined points.
“He shows us a lot of Texas Tech film, how Patrick just maneuvered those guys and dropped it in different spots and how us as cornerbacks and defensive backs can play off of that and use the field to our advantage,” Acy said of Gibbs’ tendencies.
It was just another time Acy dove into his phone and watched game film of himself and others to become a better all-around player.
He did that Monday morning and will continue to do that as Missouri heads into this season.
“It’s my safe haven,” Acy said about playing football. “It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. When I get on the field, it's just a whole type of superpower that comes out. I feel like a superhero — don't have no time to play no games on the field.”