The strange, silent summer of DGB
A new team rule kept the nation’s most-anticipated freshman from talking, so his actions had to answer the question: is he ready to meet expectations?
Aug. 31, 2012
Dorial Green-Beckham was not allowed to talk.
All he could do was walk through these glass doors of the athletic complex. All he could do was look around him.
The field ahead of him was fresh. The yard lines and the hash marks and the numbers beside them were white like a cloud on a perfect day.
This field waited for Green-Beckham, just like everyone else in this town.
Of course, the field could not have been in the student section stands last September when fans were instructed by a Tiger’s Lair coordinator to chant “M-I-Z-D-G-B” when the 6-foot, 6-inch, 220-pound high school senior stood on the sidelines for an unofficial visit before kickoff. It could not have lined the front of the athletic complex with blow-up cardboard Green-Beckham faces when he stepped out of a police-escorted, window-tinted SUV for his official visit.
It could not have woken up on the morning of Feb. 1 to watch the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit from Springfield, Mo., pick his home state university in the middle of its transition to the Southeastern Conference.
At around 9:24 a.m. later that day, offensive coordinator David Yost shot up out of a leather chair in a staff office. The eighth grade kid he had once met at a youth camp put on a black and gold snapback.
“For that split moment of time when I realized that he was coming to us, I was excited as I’ve ever been for a time,” Yost said.
Like Green-Beckham, this practice field could represent the newness of 2012; the school’s inauguration into the richest pastures college football has to offer.
“When he put that hat on national TV … that doesn't happen,” coach Gary Pinkel said. "When you get the best player in the nation and he decides to stay home and go to Mizzou ... that's mammoth. That’s mammoth.”
Green-Beckham was not allowed to talk. The athletic department’s new rule attached to the summer media guide: first-year players would not be made available.
So it is day one of the rest of his destined career. He walks on to the field.
Reclaiming the top
Regardless of glamour, freshmen would always have to start at the bottom in Pinkel’s system.
"Anybody that comes into our football program … You start at the bottom of the list and work your way up," Pinkel told reporters at the SEC Media Days on July 18. "That's where he is.”
In the first week of camp, Green-Beckham might have made more noticeable drops than catches. Somehow, onlookers learned, the perceptive armor placed on the knight had smudges.
It would take time, coaches said.
Green-Beckham ran through drills with a deep group of receivers, many making cases for rising on the depth chart.
“My big thing with receivers right now is, you know, separate yourself,” Pinkel said toward the end of camp’s first week.
Eventually, coaches began using Green-Beckham in the Y-position, the spot where tight ends have traditionally appeared. Soon enough, he was exposing linebackers with sheer speed and size. He came out of camp with the most catches and receiving yards out of any receiver through three team scrimmages.
In the final scrimmage, he snagged a pass, shed a would-be-tackler and went 74 yards for a touchdown.
“His biggest thing is that he’s so athletic that he can make up for some things that most freshman can’t,” Moe said. “He’ll make some plays that nobody else on our team can make.”
On Wednesday, Pinkel spoke during the SEC coaches teleconference.
“He is what people think he is,” he said.
He was allowed to talk, but just this one time. It was the annual Fan Day.
His teammate, junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson--a former top-five prospect out of high school--told reporters his advice for when this day came.
“Stay humble, keep your faith and just talk,” Richardson said. “The camera’s for you, man.”
And Green-Beckham talked, almost for a whole hour, stranded on the field. And he performed valiantly. He was upbeat, he looked you in the eyes and he elaborated.
Eventually, the gates to Faurot Field would open and fans would ask the woman in the pine-colored shirt of the event staff to point them to the tent Green-Beckham was under. Three letters and two digits were sought from his big hand: “DGB15.”
“They’re real excited to see me play this year,” he said. “I get it a lot almost every day, on Twitter, on Facebook. They’re just really pumped to see what we do as Missouri Tigers this year."
Fathers took pictures of him with their young daughters. He wore a smile throughout the afternoon.
The reason for silence
“I mean, you see that big, engaging smile,” Yost said earlier in the summer. “I want to see that smile after every game. Whatever role he has, however many catches he makes, he knows he’s a part of the team, a part of the family.”
Yes, there was a motive behind the rule that cut off Green-Beckham to reporters.
“I don't think he should focus on expectations right now,” Pinkel said. “He’s had this his whole life just because he’s been an extraordinary athlete.”
Surely, Green-Beckham could not have answered every question. At some point, words can’t satisfy.
On Saturday night, he will finally step onto the home turf. He will come through the tunnel and fans will look for his number, and it might not be so different from when he came out for practice.
Missouri’s first-ever SEC team walked out and onlookers stood on either side of them, as if a red carpet was laid out. Green-Beckham emerged, his dark helmet already on. He stared right back.