Missouri RB Hansbrough is ready for a bigger role

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) After cutting a 51-yard path through Murray
State’s defense, Russell Hansbrough wanted to play it cool. He exchanged
a few hugs with teammates in the end zone, then jogged back to the
sideline to receive some more.

He had scored only his second
career touchdown, but there was no need for theatrics — his first score
had come just three minutes earlier.

That’s not to say he didn’t want to celebrate.

“I was just really happy,” the Missouri running back said. “It was a monkey off my back.”

Hansbrough
rushed eight times for 104 yards and was essentially done by halftime, a
sign of his new role with the Tigers (1-0). Talking to him, one can
sense his optimism for the season ahead, borne from an eagerness to move
on from a haphazard freshman year in which his confidence admittedly
wavered.

Having added some brawn this past offseason, Hansbrough
is listed at 5 feet 9, 190 pounds, nearly identical to teammates Henry
Josey and Marcus Murphy. Their similar stature and background — all
three are from Texas — persuaded Hansbrough to switch his commitment
from Arizona State to Missouri after the Sun Devils fired coach Dennis
Erickson following the 2011 season.

“Like I told him, ‘Boy, you look like a younger me when I first got here,'” Josey said.

But
all was not rosy for Hansbrough in his first season. He rushed 37 times
for 136 yards, only 32 more than he gained in Saturday’s opener alone.
His most notable play was one he’d rather forget, one that he says still
motivates him today.

With less than three minutes left in a
42-10 loss to Alabama, a defender picked Hansbrough clean off the turf
and threw him onto the ground back first. Officials whistled LaMichael
Fanning for unsportsmanlike conduct, but that mattered little to
Hansbrough, who stayed in the game.

“No one wants that to happen to them,” he said.

Nevertheless,
Hansbrough is thankful he didn’t redshirt, as he got a chance to
experience the pace of play in the Southeastern Conference. He still
works with coaches on blocking for pass protection and understanding
various offensive schemes, but he says he’s come a long way.

“The
experience of being in the arena and getting out and playing, it’s
something that every player has to go through,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
“So often here — we can list the athletes since we’ve been here — all
of a sudden they play pretty good, all of a sudden the same athlete the
next year is playing at a whole different level.”

Now a
sophomore, Hansbrough is part of a three-man tailback rotation for
Missouri in its second year in the SEC. But while Josey is known for an
All-Big 12 season in 2011 and Murphy for returning a school-record four
kicks for touchdowns last year, the spotlight has yet to reach
Hansbrough.

And he’s perfectly OK with that, saying he’d rather concentrate on helping the team in any way he can.

“I
think there’s a side of Russell that he doesn’t really show to
anybody,” running backs coach Brian Jones said. “Russell, yeah, he is a
quiet guy. Around us, he’s actually, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ Very
respectful. He’s a joy to have and I think he’s got a really bright
future. He really does.”

The Tigers rushed for 358 yards against
Murray State, but now look to maintain the momentum against Toledo (0-1)
and later in the SEC, where they finished tied for 13th in rushing
yards per game and tied for last in yards per carry last year. Having
three healthy tailbacks, including Hansbrough, will help.

“I’m
really excited for him and I hope he keeps pushing me like he has done,”
Josey said. “I told him we’ve got a great tandem going together. It’s
just going to be a great year for us.”