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Dave Matter | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | August 13, 2014

Cracking the depth chart

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The question is simple: Is there a place for wide receiver Gavin Otte in Missouri's offense? The answers universally sound the same.

"Most definitely," senior receiver Jimmie Hunt said. "He's going to help this offense this year. He knows it, and I keep telling him. Everybody else keeps telling him. Coach keeps telling him, 'You're going to make big plays this year. We're going to need you.'"

Otte wants to believe that's true.

But as a walk-on ... as a transfer ... as a former Division II player ... and as a fifth-year senior, Otte, 23, knows better than to take his final chance for granted. He might fit the narrative of a classic overachiever, but the 5-foot-10 slot specialist with sticky hands is ready to fulfill the second half of that label: achiever.

"It would mean a lot," Otte said. "When I decided to come here, that was my intention. I wanted some playing time here, to see what I can do at the Division I level. To see it all pay off would mean quite a bit."

Otte (pronounced OTT-ey) can prove his worth in Mizzou's offense today with the first scrimmage of the preseason. When camp began last week, he was Hunt's top backup at the H-receiver (slot) position and MU's first receiver off the bench in 10-personnel packages (four receivers, no tight end). He'll get some competition for that role from senior Marcus Murphy, a converted tailback who's expected to take most of his scrimmage snaps at receiver.

But coaches and teammates have seen enough from Otte to insist he can become a contributor.

"At this point, he's doing the things I want him to do," MU receivers coach Pat Washington said. "It's all about making plays. When it all comes down to it, whether you're a young guy or old guy, we're going to try and put the guys out there that make plays. If he ends up being one of those guys -- which, I hope (he is), because I really like the young man -- then he will do it. If someone is a better playmaker, then he won't."

Otte was Mizzou's most productive receiver in scrimmages last August, catching 18 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns in three dress rehearsals. He led the team in all three totals. But once the season began, he couldn't crack the two-deep depth chart as juniors Bud Sasser and Hunt commanded the playing time at the slot positions.

This year, with Sasser moved outside and slot candidate Levi Copelin suspended for the season, Otte can establish that elusive place in the rotation.

"Up to this point, (scrimmages) have been my own little game day," Otte said. "I haven't had too much game experience yet. I just try to get in the zone like I would in a game. Obviously, a game's going to be a lot bigger. But scrimmages are the best opportunity to prove yourself."

An all-district two-way player at Rolla High School, Otte had some contact with former Mizzou offensive coordinator David Yost during the recruiting process, but talks never materialized into a scholarship offer.

Instead he headed to Division II Central Missouri in 2010. In Warrensburg, he redshirted his freshman year and didn't catch a pass in 2011.

But Central Missouri strength coach Sean Edinger took notice. Edinger, who had previously worked at MU, analyzed Otte's impressive weight room performances and made a suggestion: Why not try walking on at Mizzou?

"He told me my numbers were D-I numbers," Otte said. "That lit a little spark in me."

"There was something in me that I wanted more," he added. "I didn't feel satisfied at the D-II level. I wanted something bigger."

No one believed in Otte more than his father, Rich Otte, a former All-American receiver at Truman State -- back when it was Northeast Missouri State -- who once held the school's career receptions record.

It didn't hurt that Rich had a Mizzou connection in trainer Rex Sharp, who was the trainer at Truman during Rich's career.

Above all else, Rich instilled one rule.

"My dad did not like me dropping the football," Otte said. "I pride myself a lot on not letting the ball touch the ground. If it does, it eats at me."

That hasn't happened much in two-plus years at Mizzou, though Otte's first reception this fall will be his first in a college game. Washington counts him among his best receivers at getting open and catching the ball.

"Every scrimmage it's like the Gavin Otte Show," Washington said. "He works extremely hard at it. He's really intelligent. It's important to him. And that's why he is where he is now, because it's important to him."

But is that enough to stick in the rotation and earn a regular job catching passes from quarterback Maty Mauk?

The Tigers have four freshman receivers, all scholarship players, pushing for playing time. Murphy's addition clogs the slot with another proven playmaker.

Can the walk-on produce one running season of the Gavin Otte Show?

Why not?

"We're looking at guys who can catch the ball consistently and you can count on them to make plays all throughout practice," quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. "Gavin Otte has been one of those guys."

Four expected starters probably will sit out today's scrimmage while nursing minor injuries -- strong safety Braylon Webb (shoulder), strongside linebacker Donavin Newsom (hamstring), defensive tackle Matt Hoch (pectoral) and right tackle Connor McGovern (pectoral).

Tailback Morgan Steward (hip), linebacker Grant Jones (knee) and safety Cortland Browning (shoulder) are also expected to miss the scrimmage.

None of the injuries is considered serious or potentially season-ending, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

"Can you guys pad up?" Pinkel joked with reporters after Monday's practice.

"I can whine and moan and groan all you want about those problems, but we can't do anything about it," Pinkel said, turning serious. "The most important thing is to get young players ready to play. ... That's the answer: get backup players ready to play. Because it's inevitable. (Injuries) are going to happen."

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