Bailey looks to fill Boehm’s shoes at center

Quarterback Drew Lock: “Sam has kind of been my protector around the place so far.”
Samson Bailey will be replacing Evan Boehm, who now plays for the Arizona Cardinals, in Missouri’s starting lineup. Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics

Coming into the 2016 season, Missouri’s offensive line was a faceless enigma.

The group only had three combined starts, all of which came from right guard Alec Abeln. The line was also missing the player who had been the vocal leader of the group the past four years.

Former center Evan Boehm came from a football powerhouse in Lee’s Summit West High School and was the No. 42 recruit in the country, according to ESPN.com. Over his four years at Mizzou, he racked up 52 straight starts and became the team’s undisputed leader.

But that was then and this is now.

Now, Boehm is playing for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Now, Missouri’s center is not a highly touted recruit coming out of a big football high school.

Instead, he is coming out of a small town in southwest Missouri that boasts a population of 4,508, only about twice the size of Boehm’s high school.

Samson Bailey is very much the product of where he was brought up. He is quiet and humble to a fault. That’s until you get him on a football field.

Bailey was a part of three consecutive Class 2 Missouri state championship teams and was named the Missouri Coaches’ Association Class 2 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. His efforts were enough for then-Missouri coach Gary Pinkel to notice.

Despite his success in high school, Bailey was not on anyone’s top prospects list. He walked into his first camp an unknown freshman and found himself sitting behind the heart and soul of the Mizzou offense.

Fast forward two years, and Bailey is at the literal center of Missouri’s new-look offensive line. While he may be inhabiting the same spot as Boehm, Bailey is quick to shake off any similarities that he may share with the former center.

“I’m not as heavy as Evan was or as strong as Evan was,” Bailey said. “I feel like he anchored the line just a little bit more than I do. I’m basically just out there to make sure the nose guard doesn’t make the tackle or anything.”

Although Boehm was almost 50 pounds heavier than Bailey last season, the current Missouri center made massive strides to get his size up this offseason. He climbed up from 265 pounds to 295 pounds in six months.

“When we got here in January, the first goal was to earn that starting spot,” Bailey said. “The second goal was to gain more weight.”

However, bulking up is not what earned him the spot. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel saw a commander in the soft-spoken redshirt sophomore.

“There’s a lot that goes into playing center,” Heupel said. “It’s kind of like quarterback. There’s a lot of things that go into it and he’s done a great job of handling that.”

Bailey’s first time leading the offensive line went better than many predicted. Under his watch, quarterback Drew Lock was only sacked once and seldom touched by the West Virginia pass-rushers.

“Sam has kind of been my protector around the place so far,” Lock said. “I think he feels almost bad when I get poked out there.”

However, Bailey has taken a different approach than his predecessor in motivating his fellow linemen. Instead of trying to pump his teammates up on the sidelines, he just tries to fit in as one of the five trying to protect Lock.

“I really don’t say much,” Bailey said. “I just make sure as long as I’m doing my job, I know the other four guys will do their job and good things will happen.”

Put together, the five linemen helped the offense gain 462 total yards of offense in Morgantown, West Virginia. That is by far more than the Tigers gained in any game last season and the most since their game against Texas A&M on Nov. 15, 2014.

The other four linemen know that, while Bailey may not be Evan Boehm, he will still get the job done. With him at the center, this Missouri offense knows it has another rock to anchor the line.

“He’s a good dude,” offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said. “He’s not a vocal dude at all but he’s a hard-working guy and he’s a guy that’s going to get his job done every snap and every time you’re out on the practice field, in the weight room. He does what needs to be done and does everything right so he’s a great guy and a great teammate.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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