COLUMBIA — Evan Boehm says Clay Rhodes isn’t quite yet a lumberjack.
Each season, the Missouri football team’s offensive line picks a style of facial hair to grow as a unit. Last season, it tried beards and mullets. In 2015, the group is going for an untamed, grizzly-bear look, sprouting facial hair wherever it cares to grow.
Mitch Hall has a clean-cut chinstrap beard. Connor McGovern grows a 1970s era mustache with shoulder-length brown hair. Boehm’s blond beard bursts out from under his chinstrap.
Rhodes can keep up, they say, but he’s not yet on their level.
“Clay can grow some very good facial hair, but the pretty boy side of him needs to go away for a little bit and let the mean, bear-looking side of him come out,” Boehm said.
The Tigers will start four rising seniors on their offensive line this coming fall — the most experience the team will have in that unit since 2011. Since left tackle Mitch Morse graduated this past season, rising senior Taylor Chappell will slide to take his spot, opening up a starting position for Rhodes. He’s the only non-senior projected to start on the Tigers’ offensive line.
Rising senior Brad McNulty could also garner playing time when he returns from a shoulder injury that’s held him out of spring practice.
“If you were to watch the offensive line and say, ‘Pick out the newcomer,’ I don’t think you really could,” said Boehm, a rising senior center. “I think Clay’s holding his own and doing a great job.”
That level of expertise allows Missouri to expand its offensive game plan, said coach Gary Pinkel. Rhodes, the lightest of the bunch, still weighs in at 290 pounds and stands 6-foot-5. Hopefully that buys quarterback Maty Mauk some time in the pocket and opens up gaps for tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Ish Witter.
“If you’re good up front on offense and defense, you’ve got a chance to be a pretty good football team,” Pinkel said. “You’ve gotta play well as a unit and communicate well together. That’s gonna be important for us.”
Missouri’s offensive line is notorious for its goofy personality and quirky communication.
In addition to the synchronized facial hair growth, they dance as a unit. A video of the line — but mostly Boehm — twerking during summer practice went viral a year ago.
“We have so much experience with so many games started,” McGovern said, “and we’re all the same age and have been around each other for so long. We’re just a group of friends out there. We’re more than teammates so it’s easy to be goofy and have fun your best friends.”
The o-line is community oriented, members say. They hang out together. They dance together. They grow beards together. They lift weights together. One time after McGovern planned an unusually grueling workout session — one that included handstand pushups — Boehm jokingly ignored him for three days, the longest they’d gone without talking since they arrived at Missouri together.
“If you’re around Columbia and you see an offensive lineman, more likely than not, there’s another offensive lineman with him, or two, or three or the entire offensive line,” Boehm said. “And we kinda stand out because we’re the biggest guys on campus and the biggest guys out there, but we like to have fun.”
Rhodes fits that mold, linemen say.
“Out of all the offensive linemen, Clay is probably the most goofy one out there,” Boehm said.
“He just needs to grow and have fun.”
And grow a better beard.
Supervising editor is Wade Livingston.