Thursday, September 23, 2010
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri once again has found a go-to tight end.
Michael Egnew is second on the team in receptions (29) and yards (257) after three games. It's exactly what the junior envisioned when he was being recruited after watching the exploits of Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker.
Coffman caught 90 passes for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008 and won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end. The previous year, Martin Rucker had 87 catches for 834 yards and eight scores.
Both players were NFL draft picks.
"I wanted to go to Mizzou from Day 1," Egnew said. "I remember in high school watching a game where they beat Texas Tech pretty handily and Chase was catching passes all over the field. I wanted to do the same thing."
The tight end virtually disappeared from the offense last season with Egnew and Andrew Jones combining for just 11 catches for 65 yards. Things are much different this year for the Tigers (3-0), who host Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.
"It sure is nice to have that position back," coach Gary Pinkel said. "It has an awful lot to do with Michael's play."
Egnew figured his 6-foot-5 frame and athletic ability would translate well to the college level. He also was a state champion long jumper at Plainview (Texas) High School, with a winning effort of 23 feet, 9 inches that caught Pinkel's eye.
"For a guy that size, are you kidding me?" he said. "I couldn't believe it."
Egnew has added 25 pounds since high school and now is a sturdy 235, helping him navigate in close quarters in a spread offense that doesn't demand much blocking.
During the offseason, Egnew worked to improve his hand-eye coordination and pass catching ability. He trained alongside wide receiver Jerrell Jackson, catching tennis balls fired from across a tennis court.
The duo caught 400 balls a day.
Egnew credits receivers coach Andy Hill for keeping him motivated during his first two years.
"All along, coach Hill told me that he knew I could be better than what I was showing," Egnew said. "Through his tutelage I was able to work on my game and so far it's shown on the field."
Egnew also worked to establish a connection with quarterback Blaine Gabbert on 7-on-7 drills during the summer.
"His attitude has been tremendous. He knows he's a playmaker now," Gabbert said. "He can break tackles and score every time he touches the ball."
As for living up to the production of previous Missouri tight ends, Egnew doesn't seem to feel pressure.
"The only expectations I worry about are my own," he said. "I try to live up to them every day and see where it takes me."