COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Missouri football team listed eight freshman on its depth chart for the Tigers' season opener today against Southeast Missouri State.
Alec Abeln, a sophomore out of St. Louis University High School, is not one of them. But Abeln might be as fresh as any player expected to contribute today for the Tigers.
Abeln spent most of training camp working as the backup center behind four-year starter Evan Boehm. Last Tuesday, Abeln began working with the first team at left guard. By Friday, he was named the starter.
"We got him in there, and he just did extraordinarily well," coach Gary Pinkel said. "He'd had a real good camp thus far. He'd been doing really good in the spring and everything, and it was nice to see him get in there and compete. ... At the end of the day, we don't really care how long you've been here or what happened. If you earn the job, you earn the job."
Abeln beat out senior Taylor Chappell, who started 10 games last season.
"He's just focused on getting better and getting his fundamentals and his technique down," Boehm said of Abeln. "He's going out there each and every day with an open mind of getting better at specific things that he wants to get better at. He knows the playbook like the back of his hand."
Abeln said he was surprised by the quick transition.
"They talk about how the best five guys are going to play no matter what," he said, "and I want to play. So it was something that, knowing that I was going to be the No. 2 center but also working to possibly crack that top five."
Abeln played mostly left guard in high school until he focused on center his senior season. He said he was just given a quick heads up before his position meeting last Friday that he would be the starter.
"It's something that I've been working hard for for quite a long time," he said. "After a win, you have a 24-hour period (to celebrate). We had practice Saturday morning, so I had about a six-hour period to feel good about it. I've had a lot of really great coaches and people in my life that I got to call up on Friday night, and that was pretty special to be able to say thank you and kind of enjoy it for that but at the same time lock in and get ready for Saturday's practice."
Abeln will get to play between Boehm and senior left tackle Connor McGovern, each of whom have gotten significant playing time since their freshman season.
"It's a huge, huge benefit for me," Abeln said. "Between those two guys, probably 70 starts between them and just loads of experience. Anybody will tell you that having good help is the most important thing about playing on the line, and I've got two of the best guys in the best league."
With Boehm due to graduate, the starting center spot will soon be up for grabs. For now, though, Abeln has enough to worry about.
"Right now it's just focusing on left guard for this week," Abeln said. "I'm sure after the season when spring comes we'll have that conversation, but right now I'm just trying to focus on getting adjusted to left guard."