Kendial Lawrence is nowhere to be found in most NFL Draft projections. Beyond this season, football is far from a guarantee for the redshirt senior tailback.
But none of that currently concerns the Rockwall, Texas, native who teammates label the fastest Tiger.
While not on draft boards, “Lawrence” can be seen atop the depth chart for Missouri and a number of factors have led to his emergence as someone with game-breaking potential each time he touches the ball.
“I learned so much while I’ve been here and I learned so much from other guys around this league,” Lawrence said. “So I took a really different approach to this entire season to work a little bit harder than I have in past years and go all out my senior year.”
The sense of urgency hasn’t gone unnoticed by coach Gary Pinkel.
“He’s been working remarkably hard,” Pinkel said.
With this being Lawrence's final collegiate campaign and with last year’s starting running back, junior Henry Josey, sidelined for the 2012 season with a knee injury, Lawrence is playing this season more focused and working harder than ever before . It’s led to him producing more than ever.
Entering his final season as a Tiger, Lawrence has 1,207 career yards on 4.9 yards per carry. Through four games, Lawrence has 291 yards on the ground on 6.5 yards per carry.
An added burst to his game hasn’t hurt.
Lawrence said he currently runs a 4.31-second 40-yard-dash, more than one 10th of a second quicker than last year.
“He’s like the roadrunner,” fellow senior tailback Jared McGriff-Culver said. “He uses his quickness to set up his speed. Like the roadrunner, one second you see him and the next you don’t.”
“Roadrunner” has been noticeably faster this season, but the bigger change has been in his running style. He hits the hole quicker and with more conviction than in the past.
“He’s finding seams and he’s hitting them; he’s doing a little less dancing around,” Pinkel said.
Long, studious hours in the film-room triggered the more aggressive approach from the more focused Lawrence.
“You watch so many different guys on film and so many different schemes that it just shows you the urgency of how important hitting the hole is,” Lawrence said.
The most influential ball carrier Lawrence saw tape of was Trent Richardson, the former Alabama standout who was the Cleveland Browns’ first-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft.
“I like how he hit the hole," Lawrence said. "He saw the hole, he hit it and, if there was a guy there, he found a way through."
The two don’t have any relationship and have never spoken, but Lawrence has been keeping up with Richardson’s progress in the NFL.
“I’m just a fan of his game," Lawrence said. "I like the way he plays.”
According to redshirt sophomore Marcus Murphy, Lawrence’s backup, Missouri’s switch from the Big 12 Conference to Richardson’s former home in the Southeastern Conference has also made the importance of north-south running more apparent.
“Coming into the SEC, we know the defenses play more downhill with big linebackers so it’s important for us to hit the hole and try to eliminate all the dancing and just get what we can get on the ground,” Murphy said.
And while it was Josey’s injury that inserted Lawrence into the starting lineup, it was watching Josey's successful one-cut running style that prompted Lawrence to emulate the approach.
Finally being 100 percent healthy after dealing with a cracked fibula and a shoulder injury the last two seasons has also contributed to Lawrence’s success.
“I don’t think he was conservative last year but I know with a couple of injuries he’s definitely had to alter things he’d do,” junior quarterback James Franklin said. “This year he doesn’t try and make guys miss as much, he just makes a cut and sticks with it, and he’s been doing a great job of it.”
Josey, who was the Big 12’s leading rusher, averaging more than 8 yards-per-carry last year at the time of his injury, left a seemingly irreplaceable void in the Missouri offense with his absence for this season.
And while teammates don’t view Lawrence as Josey’s replacement, the running game hasn’t gone by the wayside in Josey’s absence as Lawrence’s own star begins to shine.
“He’s been wearing his own shoes," Franklin said. "He’s leaving Henry’s shoes for Henry."