Zanders adds ‘weapon’ to Missouri offense ahead of West Virginia opener

Missouri sophomore quarterback Drew Lock: “[Marvin’s] on the same page I am. If it’s going to help us win the game, then so be it.”
Missouri Tigers redshirt-sophomore quarterback Marvin Zanders (2) stretches Aug. 10, 2016, at the Kadlec Practice Field in Columbia, Mo.

Sitting on the sidelines was the last thing Marvin Zanders wanted to do when he chose to play for Missouri three years ago. But excluding three snaps in the red zone against Mississippi State in November of 2015, that’s all he’s done.

In a week, the Missouri Tigers will kick off the 2016 season at West Virginia, and with a new system under offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the redshirt sophomore quarterback from Jacksonville, Florida, is excited. Why?

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to see the field,” Zanders said Thursday. “If an eclipse comes or something, maybe I won’t, but those don’t happen for a while.”

Zanders said these last three years at Missouri have felt “like three million,” and over that time, Zanders has seen everything from Missouri’s winning the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division to the downward spiral of former quarterback Maty Mauk. As last year came to a close, coach Gary Pinkel retired, forcing Zanders to have a conversation with his family about what was next. Then came coach Barry Odom's hiring, which led to yet another.

“When Coach Odom was announced, we scheduled a meeting and I talked with him and felt really comfortable in what direction he was taking the team,” Zanders said. “I felt I wanted to be a part of that. I could’ve looked other places but I wanted to stay here, I didn’t want to move.”

In sticking with the Tigers, he’s stuck with the challenge he’s always welcomed — improving as a pocket passer.

This offseason, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback embraced that challenge. Zanders said he doesn’t mind the running label often given to him, but that he likes to think of himself as a dual-threat like “a Michael Vick, a Cam Newton, a Robert Griffin III.”

Zanders also referenced Clemson quarterback and Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson on Thursday as a colleague whose game he likes. The two competed in an Elite 11 camp together in Georgia in high school, which drives Zanders today.

With Heupel’s new system, Zanders said this offseason has been refreshing. No starter has officially been named for the Missouri football team, which has elevated and furthered competition, something similar to a decision Heupel made in the 2013-14 season when he was Oklahoma’s co-offensive coordinator.

At the time, Oklahoma had what was termed a “belldozer” package with Blake Bell’s rushing ability and Trevor Knight’s throwing ability. Why? Prior to the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Heupel said it was for them to continue to push each other, according to a story written by the Birmingham News. That year, the Sooners finished the season 11-2 and beat Alabama in that bowl game.

For Zanders, this new opportunity has meant going “mano a mano” with Lock every day, a competition he termed “friendly.”

“Whether it’s him making a play or me making a play, we’re both encouraging each other and pushing each other to try to play the best that we can,” Zanders said. “We all want to win, and it’s all brotherly love.”

Lock agreed and said: “He’s on the same page I am. If it’s going to help us win the game, he just wants to help win ball games like we do.”

For many, this brings up the often spoken about college football conundrum — does having two quarterbacks really mean you have none? Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton thinks differently.

“They are weapons and when you go into a battle, you’re going to use all your weapons,” Pendleton said. “You’ve got guys that can play at a championship level and can throw things at the defense that may be different from each other, that may be similar from each other, but [these two are] unique.

That’s what we’ve got — we’ve got a two-headed monster and we’re excited about it.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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