COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri Tiger football is back.
Just 67 days after finishing the 2013-14 season with a Cotton Bowl victory against Oklahoma State, Missouri opened the 2014 season with a spring practice Tuesday afternoon at Faurot Field, the first of 14 practices leading up to the April 19 Black & Gold Game.
"It does feel like we just finished last season, but I'm glad to be back out here," Missouri defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said.
Missouri enjoyed one of the finest years in school history last season, finishing 12-2 with a No. 5 national ranking while capturing the Southeastern Conference East Division title and that Cotton Bowl win.
Yet the Tigers still have chips on their shoulders.
"We've got to do it again," Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser said. "Let everybody know that last year wasn't a fluke. We're here to work, we're here to play."
Added Vincent: "Nobody really respects us still. They still think of us as the little brother in the SEC. That doesn't matter if we won 12 games last year, it's a whole new season."
What will change that perception?
"(We have to do it) every single year," Vincent said. "They have to know that we're real and we're here to stay."
Not only do the Tigers want a repeat performance of last year's historic season, they want to surpass what that team did.
"We're just hungry, all these guys are hungry," Missouri defensive end Markus Golden said. "Everybody's ready to get more. We're not satisfied with just playing in the Cotton Bowl. We want more than the Cotton Bowl. That's what we're preaching right now, to get everybody motivated and know that we have more to do and we can do more than we did last year."
That's some heavy talk for Day One, an afternoon full of stretches, positional drills and getting the younger players acclimated to the way things are done at Missouri.
"I thought overall it was a good practice," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "The first two by NCAA rule are just helmet practices. That's good because we spent a lot of time on fundamentals. Felt we got a lot of good work done today. It's going to crank up again Thursday, then we'll be in pads Friday and practices go to a little different level."
The season is still nearly six months away. Missouri will open the 2014 season against South Dakota State on Aug. 30 at Faurot Field. But with just 13 practices and the spring game on the docket before summer break, Pinkel realizes the importance of the spring work.
"We don't have scout teams during spring football," he said. "It's all competition. I think our players all really appreciate that. To be a good fundamental football team, it's about every repetition you have on that practice field, that you have a conscious effort to do things right. That's the only way you become a better player. Ultimately how good a fundamental team you are will ultimately determine the team that you have."
It might have been only one practice, but Pinkel is fired up about the 2014 season.
"Last year we were like wounded animals," he said. "There was such an excitement to get going again. There's no question (it's the same this year). Now it's time to play football. That's why you do all this stuff, so you can be a better football player. It was a high-energy practice, a lot of good things."
Missouri had a pretty good run of health last season, and it's off to a strong start this year. There were only a few minor things to report Tuesday. Ernest Payton, a to-be junior cornerback, wore a no-tackle red pullover as he is still recovering from ACL surgery last season. Defensive lineman Rickey Hatley turned his ankle "walking off a curb" and tight end Sean Culkin fractured his index finger. Pinkel expects Payton and Culkin to do more after spring break.