The early signing period is still more than a week away, but Missouri has already picked up its biggest commitment. He is 6-foot-4, 305 lbs., and he will play in the Tigers’ bowl game.
His name is Terry Beckner Jr., and Missouri announced Dec. 1 that the junior defensive tackle would be staying for his senior year rather than enter the NFL Draft. Even after tearing ligaments in each of his knees his freshman and sophomore years, Beckner will postpone his pursuit of a career in professional football.
Beckner was not available to talk to reporters Sunday, after MU’s most recent bowl practice, but his teammates said the decision was unsurprising. They sensed that the former five-star recruit from East St. Louis, Ill., wants more than to just get to the NFL — something that seemed likely when he signed with MU out of high school as ESPN’s No. 2 overall recruit in the 2015 class.
Beckner wants to be an early round pick, and when he comes back for his senior year to improve his draft stock, he will also be the leader of a defensive line that will have new starters at every position other than his.
“The way he’s been playing, the attitude he’s taken on the field, the leadership role that he’s taken with our group — it’s special,” defensive line coach Brick Haley said. “And I really appreciate that. He realizes that he needs another year.”
Beckner’s stats this season, his first fully healthy one in college, don’t indicate that he needs another year in college, even if he can improve. He has 10 1/2 tackles for loss, including seven sacks, a high total for an interior lineman. He intercepted a pass at Vanderbilt and showed off his athleticism with a 49-yard return. He likely would have been a mid-to-late round pick if declared for the NFL after his junior year.
“He’s a multimillion dollar guy,” redshirt freshman defensive end Tre Williams said of Beckner. “I think he just wants to go ahead and prove not to only himself but the scouts and his family that, ‘There’s more to me than just bouncing back from an injury. I’m going to bounce back and be greater.’”
Haley, who was once the Chicago Bears’ defensive line coach, said Beckner will focus on showing he can play every down next season. His coach wants him to be just as intense on first and second down as he already is on third.
Missouri’s coaches have said that Beckner only began to play at full health around when the Tigers’ six-game winning streak began. That, along with the return of nose guard A.J. Logan from a suspension, has helped Beckner excel.
But even now, defensive end Marcell Frazier said, Beckner might not be “fully, fully confident.”
“It’s not so much the health, more the confidence and understanding it is all right,” Frazier said. “You’re not going to get hurt.”
Frazier, tied for first in the Southeastern Conference in tackles for loss, is one of the three starters Missouri will have to replace along its defensive line. So Beckner will have to guide the group.
Really, though, he already does.
“He’s a five-star recruit, and he does everything right,” Frazier said.
Beckner is quiet when talking to a scrum of reporters, but teammates say he’s a vocal leader in the Tigers’ locker room. He’s close with coach Barry Odom, who was Missouri’s defensive coordinator during Beckner’s freshman year. Odom has said Beckner wants to get his MU degree.
So two things can be true. It would make sense for a former top recruit who has suffered two ACL tears to jump to the NFL at his first chance, but it also makes sense for Beckner to return for his senior season. He seems to have given little thought to leaving early.
Williams, whose locker is adjacent to Beckner’s, said Beckner told him weeks ago that he would stay — just as speculation that he jump to the NFL began to grow.
“I thought he was just kidding, though,” Williams said, “because he had a really good season.”