COLUMBIA, Mo. — The life of a college football player can take many unpredictable twists and turns over the course of a long season. So here was Mizzou standout offensive lineman Justin Britt on Monday afternoon, answering questions from reporters about Christmas music, dancing in a parking lot and his fiancée’s “mom car,” as one of his teammates called it.
“When we get on the field we have a business-like attitude,” Britt said. “But when we come off to the sideline and we’re in that ‘U’ we try to lighten the mood and make it fun. We just relax and wait till we go back out there.”
Monday is the day each week that Tigers coach Gary Pinkel and requested players meet with the media and Britt, Mizzou’s 6-foot-6, 315-pound redshirt senior left tackle, was the big man in the spotlight after being announced as the Southeastern Conference’s Offensive Line Player of the Week earlier in the day.
It was a well-deserved honor for Britt, a three-year starter who received the top offensive line grade of 94 percent from the coaching staff after recording three pancake blocks, five knockdowns and two cut blocks during the Tigers’ 31-3 win against Tennessee on Saturday night.
“He is just getting better,” Pinkel said. “We talked about him the other day in the coaches’ meeting. He is also standing out. A lot of times offensive linemen don’t stand out, but he has been blowing people up on the sidelines. He is just a very, very talented player. … He is playing at a whole different level since he has been here.
“He is a very, very talented athlete, too. I call him a flat-belly offensive lineman. We won’t go to the other side of the spectrum on that. He is really going well right now, and I’m really proud of him. The offensive line in general is also playing really well, too.”
Britt found out about the accolade Monday morning when his fiancée, Alicia Bratten, told him the news.
“So it was a good way to start the day,” Britt said. “I’m honored and blessed to have the opportunity to still play. But I’ve been saying we’ve been playing this way, our offensive linemen have, all season, and being one of the five starters I’m glad our play is starting to get noticed. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”
His coaches and teammates were thrilled to see Britt get the recognition.
“I’m pumped for him because I can’t think of anyone more deserving just because of how hard he’s worked the entire time we’ve been here,” said Max Copeland, a redshirt senior who lines up next to Britt at left guard. “He’s reaping the fruits of his labor, so I’m really proud of him.”
Plenty of people have noticed the play of the Tigers’ offensive line this year, which has been one of the key components to Mizzou’s 8-1 start.
Britt, Copeland, sophomore center Evan Boehm, redshirt sophomore right guard Connor McGovern and redshirt junior right tackle Mitch Morse have started seven of the Tigers’ nine games. Anthony Gatti, a redshirt junior, started at left guard twice in place of Copeland after he suffered an ankle injury.
“We’re five best friends and five brothers,” Britt said.
And they certainly like to have fun away from the field.
That was apparent when Boehm posted a video on Vine recently of the starting offensive line unit dancing in the parking lot outside the Mizzou athletics training complex one night as Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” played on the speakers of Bratten’s Saturn Vue.
The video, which Boehm called “Christmas Thursdays,” includes Morse doing some athletic Rockettes-style high-leg kicking while clapping his hands under his legs as well as Britt dancing while holding a pie.
That group’s off-the-field fun and frivolity have helped make the unit even more cohesive on the field, which in turn has helped the Tigers’ turnaround from 5-7 in 2012 to 8-1 so far in 2013.
“It’s the same people, but a different team,” Britt said. “We’ve been saying that. People think we’re the same team as last year. We are the same personnel, but we’ve grown in the past year in our own ways, become more of a team as a unit, and we found a way that we work together and it clicks and it’s been working.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @natelatsch or email him at email@example.com.