Chism, Hazelton bring experience to Mizzou receiving corps
Minutes after being introduced as Missouri’s new head football coach last December, Eli Drinkwitz mentioned the Tigers needed more guys who could consistently score touchdowns.
He soon signed freshmen who could help solve that problem long term such as Jay Maclin and JJ Hester, but what about in 2020?
Drinkwitz lured two graduate transfer wide receivers who will have only one season in Columbia: Keke Chism and Damon Hazelton. Hazelton, a Baltimore native, comes to Columbia from Virginia Tech, while Chism played his three previous seasons at Angelo State, a Division II school in West Texas.
“The coaching staff had a great deal of importance on my decision to come here to Mizzou,” Hazelton said. “I’ve got a really good relationship with coach Drinkwitz and (wide receivers coach Bush) Hamdan as well. So that played a large factor.”
While the scoring load from the wide receiver position doesn’t rest solely on Chism and Hazelton’s shoulders, integrating their veteran presences into a younger group of players could prove to be beneficial for years to come.
Chism was only officially added to the Tigers’ roster back in June and has since made a significant impression on his new teammates, with a few calling him the biggest surprise during summer workouts and the three fall camp practices so far.
“He’s incredibly grateful for every opportunity he has,” Drinkwitz said of Chism. “... He loves the weight room, he loves the training room, the treatment he gets, the opportunity he has to be a Missouri Tiger. I think he’s really taking advantage of it. He’s put on eight pounds of muscle since he’s been here.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Chism isn’t afraid about making the jump from Division II to the Southeastern Conference. Missouri was far from the only FBS school interested in Chism after he entered his name into the transfer portal.
Chism decided to come to Columbia because of the trusting nature he received while being recruited, he said.
“It definitely took a lot of time, for sure. I talked to my family about it and it’s one of those things — I just had to take a leap of faith and take a chance on myself,” Chism said of the switch from Angelo State to Missouri. “Because ever since I was a kid, my goal is always to be the best and play against the best. It’s one of those things where I really just had to believe in myself and take that step and enter the transfer portal.
“Once that happened, everything opened up for me, just God’s grace.”
Chism became the first 2020 MU newcomer to earn his number Tuesday, a new tradition from Drinkwitz where incoming freshmen and transfers wear blank jerseys in practice until a Tigers assistant feels they have put in the work to earn that individual honor.
Chism, who will wear No. 6 for Missouri, was joined by graduate transfer offensive lineman Mike Maietti and freshman wide receiver Chance Luper, who were given their numbers last week.
Hazelton shouldn’t be too far behind in donning the full Tigers uniform.
“Damon’s a guy that’s got a great catch radius and he’s been working really hard,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve got to continue to work to keep him healthy. So that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Hazelton has a few lingering injuries, per Drinkwitz, that have kept him out of team workouts, thwarting his efforts to join Chism, Luper and Maietti in receiving their numbers in front of the team.
“He’ll make it. I’m not stressed about it,” Drinkwitz said of Hazelton’s progress. “... Nothing’s given, everything’s earned. And so, when he makes a play, makes a great block, runs the right route perfectly ... his position group and position coach will find that fitting to give him a number.”
Missouri was led in receptions last season by a running back, with Tyler Badie’s 32. Had tight end Albert Okwuegbunam or wide receiver Johnathon Johnson been fully healthy in 2019, they would have had a chance to top that.
It was the first time since the 1990s that a tight end or wide receiver didn’t lead the team in receptions.
With the changes Drinkwitz is making to the Tigers’ offense, that shouldn't be a trend that continues.
“Every day, I’ve come in and it’s a brand new day,” Chism said. “And so each day, I look at it as a challenge and I’ve got to earn it every day. I want to prove to my guys that I want to be someone that they can count on. I want to be a leader on this team and someone they can depend on.”