Player Development Fuels Tigers’ SEC Success

Defensive lineman Markus Golden (33) runs back his interception against Toledo in September, one of 10 interceptions Missouri has this season.

Defensive lineman Markus Golden (33) runs back his interception against Toledo in September, one of 10 interceptions Missouri has this season.

By Christian Clark, KBIA Sports

COLUMBIA — Missouri defensive end Markus Golden is one of the most disruptive forces in all of college football. In 12 games, the senior from St. Louis has registered 16 tackles for loss and 8 ½ sacks.

It’s easy to understand why Golden reaps success if you’ve seen him play. Golden is a rare breed of defensive end with the speed to go around opposing lineman and the strength to bulldoze them. What’s more difficult to understand is how Golden turned into the quarterback-crushing, run-stuffing defensive end we see today.

Golden wasn’t the most highly touted recruit coming into the Missouri program after one year at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas. He was productive in his one year of junior college football — he had 19 tackles for loss and six sacks — but his work came against far inferior competition.

He was only ranked as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com.

And he also only started playing defensive end after coming to Missouri.

The Tigers’ coaching staff decided to move him there from linebacker, where Golden had played since high school, last year in the off-season. Now almost two full seasons later, Golden has developed into one of the best defensive ends in college football.

His play speaks something about his work ethic. Head coach Gary Pinkel constantly praises his captain’s drive but Golden’s success also underscores a larger theme about the Missouri program: the coaching staff almost always seems to get the most out of their players.
Missouri’s recruiting classes have ranked in the bottom four of the Southeastern Conference over the course of the last four years, coming in at 12th, 11th, 14th and 12th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference, according to Rivals.com.

It has hauled in just one five-star recruit in that time — wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who has since left the program — and five four-star recruits. The vast majority of players who sign with Missouri are three-star recruits like Golden.

By comparison, the last four recruiting classes for Alabama — the Tigers’ opponent in Saturday’s SEC Championship showdown — have been ranked first in the SEC and the nation each year. 16 five-star recruits and 54 four-star recruits have signed with the Crimson Tide during that stretch of time.

So how has Missouri managed to make it to consecutive SEC Championship games, a feat the Crimson Tide haven’t even managed? According to Golden, it starts with Missouri’s coaching staff. He credits defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski in particular for helping him get to where he’s at.

“I came in as a linebacker,” Golden said. “I knew how to rush the passer but I didn’t know all about the pass rushing moves, and coach Kul (pronounced cool) was able to teach me a bunch of different pass rushing moves that I can use… for the rest of my career.”

The Missouri coaching staff is made up of a number of experienced assistant coaches such as Kuligowski. He, along with defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, quarterbacks coach Andy Hill, cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, and running backs coach Brian Jones have been at Missouri for the entirety of head coach Gary Pinkel’s tenure, which started in 2001.

That continuity combined with the assistants’ experience has played a part in helping Missouri remain among the SEC’s best teams despite its perceived recruiting shortcomings.

“Really, I have to give it to the coaches,” Golden said. “They work guys hard in the weight room and on the field, and work hard to develop the guys.”

Missouri may not win National Signing Day in many people’s books, but as of late, it sure has been winning many of the only contests that matter: games.

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