Mizzou RB Russell Hansbrough takes starting role
COLUMBIA (AP) - Russell Hansbrough can't remember the previous time he rushed 20 times in a game.
"It'd probably be in peewee football or something like that," the Missouri running back said. "Not even in high school."
Hansbrough, a junior from Arlington, Texas, ran a career-high 126 yards in the No. 24 Tigers' 38-18 season-opening win Saturday against South Dakota State. It was his first career start after backing up Henry Josey alongside Marcus Murphy in his first two seasons.
But with Josey now in the NFL and Murphy seeing increased playing time at receiver, the spotlight will grow brighter on Hansbrough - something he's admitted in the past to not altogether being comfortable with.
"He's a really open guy once you get to know him," said Murphy, a senior who grew up in nearby DeSoto, Texas. "I think you just have to get to know him for him to open up to you. He's a really outgoing, fun, exciting person, but he sticks to himself a lot. Once he gets to know you and get comfortable, you'll see the real Russ."
Running backs coach Brian Jones says he's been working on leadership with all of his players, and that there's still some room to grow in that area. But Jones added that Hansbrough has become a more vocal member of the group as he tries to mentor younger players.
Regardless of how much he says, Hansbrough can always let his performance on the field speak for him.
With 6 ½ minutes remaining in the first quarter Saturday, he slipped three tackles and darted across the field before scampering 10 yards down the sideline and into the end zone. Waiting to greet him was center Evan Boehm, his roommate.
"My mom printed off a picture of his very first touchdown and me holding him up in my arms," Boehm said. "And I have a poster (of that) in my room hanging up, and he has a poster in his room hanging up. That's just a special bond Russ and I have."
Listed at 6-foot-3, 320-pounds, Boehm can easily lift Hansbrough, who says he is 5-foot-8, 194-pounds. Being about an inch shorter and about the same weight as Murphy makes him a bit stockier and reasonably able continue to rush about 20 times per game, coach Gary Pinkel said.
"He's got a lot of ability," Pinkel said. "I think we've just seen a glimpse of really what he's capable of. He's very, very explosive. He's a quick-start guy, so he can be going fast in a really quick manner."
Hansbrough and Murphy combined for 1,286 rushing yards last season, helping Missouri finish second in the Southeastern Conference with 237.9 per game. Josey, who signed Monday with the Jacksonville Jaguars to be on their practice squad, added 1,166 yards on the ground.
Sophomore Morgan Steward, a few inches taller and about 20 pounds heavier than Hansbrough and Murphy, is also expected to receive playing time but missed the opener with a hip injury, Pinkel said. Steward isn't expected to be healthy for at least another 2-3 weeks.
Missouri gained 215 yards on the ground against South Dakota State, but the team travels this week to Toledo, which only yielded 37 rushing yards to New Hampshire in its opener. Hansbrough gained 30 yards on 10 carries when the teams met a year ago at Missouri, where the Tigers won 38-23.
Teammates are expecting Hansbrough to improve upon that figure this year.
"He's always had that big-play mentality," receiver Bud Sasser said. "He's always brought his A-game to the table, and we don't expect anything less. We just really appreciate that he's on this squad, because he's a very dynamic player."