University of Missouri recruit Tucker McCann could have been right there alongside his O’Fallon High football teammates on Wednesday signing letters of intent.
However, one of the nation’s top kicking recruits was willing to pass on signing day and figures he’s already got a leg up on the competition by graduating early and enrolling at Mizzou to begin his college football and academic career.
“Getting here early and getting a head start, getting acclimated to the program, being a part of the team ... all that was really important to me,” said McCann, who still got some air time on Mizzou’s official signing day recruiting show that aired Wednesday. “I’m really looking to start as a freshman and to try my hardest to make that happen.”
An All-American kicker in high school, McCann (6-foot, 180 pounds) kicked a state-record 60-yard field goal as a junior and leads O’Fallon with 28 career field goals. He averaged 44.76 yards on 41 punts this season and also kicked six field goals and 22 extra points as a senior.
Did he miss not being back at O’Fallon for signing day? He’s too busy dealing with 15 credit hours of course work at Mizzou and preseason workouts for spring football.
“I guess I always looked forward to that happening, but the fact that I’m here and getting everything out of the way first and getting acclimated to the program is better than (the signing),” McCann said. “I knew this was the place for me a long time ago. Mizzou gave me the option if my parents wanted to come down here and have the table and see me signing, but they’re going to stay home and watch the TV show instead.”
Another former area standout getting a head start on his Division I career is former Althoff all-state defensive lineman Merrick Jackson. Jackson (6-2, 320) helped lead Althoff to the 2012 state championship game and committed to Illinois, later attending Iowa Western Community College instead.
Jackson kept working and was a first-team National Junior College All-American this season, eventually signing with Minnesota. He’s already a few weeks into his first semester of classes at Minnesota and is eligible to play in the Golden Gophers’ spring game.
There wasn’t a lot of hype around his signing, but Jackson said he is ready to get busy earning some playing time in the Big Ten.
He talked about taking the junior-college path back to the Big Ten.
“I felt like it would have been great to be there playing, but after thinking about it I don’t think I was ready, mentally or physically,” Jackson said. “Going to junior college really got my mind right. That made me make sure I really wanted to play football.
“I felt like i should be somewhere I wasn’t — and I felt like I had to prove it to myself that I could get there.”
Jackson said he also had offers from Iowa State, Southern Mississippi and Troy and interest from Baylor and Oklahoma State.
“When I came on my visit it was the game (Minnesota) played Illinois and honestly, just being around the team I liked the vibe they gave off,” Jackson said of the Gophers’ players and coaching staff.
The vibe he’s not liking is winter in Minnesota.
“My first couple days here it was like negative-17,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot worse here than Iowa.”
Jackson hopes to make an impact right away.
“They rotate a lot but with that being said, we do play in the Big Ten and there’s lot of downhill runners,” he said. “I’m the biggest defensive lineman we have so I expect to get a decent amount of playing itme, epsecially on first and second down.”
McCann wants to follow the path of former Belleville West All-American Austin Seibert, who started as a freshman at Oklahoma. Both were rare among kickers that they received full scholarships; even the top programs in the country typically bring in kickers and punters as preferred walk-ons.
Former Mizzou starting kicker Andrew Baggett has graduated, leaving an opening.
“We have about six or seven kickers right now and two punters,” McCann said. “I think it will come down to the fall season. All I can do now is just work my hardest and try to get that starting spot. There’s nothing set in stone right now.”
McCann began planning for early college enrollment during his junior year at O’Fallon, speaking with his academic adviser. He took two summer school courses before his senior year and doubled up on an English course.
While his fellow O’Fallon seniors are back home, he’s already making the adjustment to college life.
“It all worked out,” he said. “It’s really weird. It feels like I’m growing up earlier and being ahead of everyone else.”