Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. From the ashes of disaster arises opportunity. Light always tends to reside at the end of the dark tunnel.
Whichever motivational proverb the Missouri Tigers choose to institute, it will mark only the beginning of the coping process that now defines life in the program without Derrick Washington, who is currently serving an indefinite suspension while being investigated for allegedly assaulting a woman in June.
Depending upon the severity of the charges brought against Washington, which could be reduced from a Class C felony to a misdemeanor pending a plea agreement, the Tigers could be without one of their co-captains for the foreseeable future, perhaps the entire season.
So, with only eight days separating the team from its season opener against Illinois, who takes the reins? Including a trio of talented true freshmen, Missouri has only two other scholarship running backs with game experience.
Redshirt junior De'Vion Moore is the logical choice to step in. The St. Louis native has amassed 489 rushing yards over the past two seasons, serving primarily as the backup to Washington. However, injuries have hampered Moore for much of his career, including an ankle/foot issue that has limited his participation in preseason practices, and there are serious questions regarding his ability to handle an increased workload.
Despite his youth, the No. 1 job may very well end up in the hands of sophomore Kendial Lawrence, who, prior to Washington's suspension, was promoted to the second unit after a string of impressive August performances.
One of only nine prep running backs in the nation to earn the distinction, Lawrence earned a spot on the Parade Magazine All-American Team after rushing for 2,679 yards and 43 touchdowns as a senior at Texas' Rockwell-Heath High School in 2008. In his first season in the MU program, Lawrence saw limited action in 2009, registering 219 yards on 52 attempts, including a seven-carry, 37-yard performance against Texas to lead the team.
Moore and Lawrence are assured of seeing plenty of time, but the door has suddenly swung open for a host of others. Offensive coordinator David Yost has stated his intentions to use more of a two-back set in 2010, and the personnel package will seemingly rely on the services of players whom otherwise would be headed for a redshirt season.
But are significant contributions too much to ask from incoming freshmen, who have had all of three weeks to nail down the intricacies of the position in MU's spread offense, which requires running backs to have the ability to not only run but split wide as a receiver and participate in the blocking schemes.
Marcus Murphy, Henry Josey, and Greg White arrived in Columbia this summer as three heralded members of MU's 2010 recruiting class, but with Washington's status up in the air, at least two figure to factor into the rotation at running back.
The presumed frontrunner is Josey, who yesterday received reps with the No. 1 offense and is reportedly listed as the backup to Lawrence on the most recent depth chart—one spot ahead of Murphy. Murphy has also received time with the kickoff return units.
White, who at 6'1" and 205 pounds is considerably bigger than both Josey (5'10", 180) and Murphy (5'9", 170), is currently listed fifth on the depth chart, though there seems to be a consensus among fans that he should be MU's go-to back in goal line and short-yardage situations.
There's talent, to be sure, but any way you slice it, it's a huge blow to lose Washington, a senior who has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards as Missouri's starter the past two seasons.
After enduring a down year in 2009, during which he still ran for 865 yards and 10 scores, Washington was enjoying a fantastic preseason camp, primarily because of a new nutrition regimen that has reportedly resulted in him shedding some 15 pounds.
Washington was suspended indefinitely by head coach Gary Pinkel shortly before the team's scrimmage on Thursday. At the time, school officials cited disciplinary reasons, but details were undisclosed.
That is until the Columbia Missourian on Thursday evening released the contents of court documents it had obtained. According to the documents, Washington had an order of protection issued against him by a Boone County court in June, after an unidentified women alleged he sexually assaulted her.
The alleged victim, who was identified as Jane Doe, claims Washington sexually assaulted her on June 19 at an off-campus apartment complex. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Washington, 21, reportedly entered the woman's apartment after banging "loudly on doors and windows," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which cited an interview statement conducted by University of Missouri police.
According to multiple reports, the alleged victim had been a tutor to Washington.
After the order of protection was filed on June 22, a court hearing had been set for July 7 but was set back to July 21 when the woman, who has since moved out of state, asked for a continuance. When neither party attended the scheduled hearing, the case was dismissed without prejudice, according to The Missourian.
The paper also reported that Missouri athletics director Mike Alden—and presumably Pinkel—has had knowledge of the incident and supports the head coach's decision to suspend Washington, who was recently selected to the list of candidates this season for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best running back in college football.
Alden declined to confirm whether the assault charges were the reason for the suspension, and instead referred to the school's policy of not commenting on the suspension of a player.
University police said they turned over the case to the city prosecutor's office. A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office told the Columbia Daily Tribune on Friday that it has not yet been determined whether charges will be brought against Washington.
Washington's suspension is yet another strike this summer against a program that is normally known for avoiding legal troubles.
On July 2, senior safety Jarrell Harrison was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting at a Columbia mall. A month later, on August 3, co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker was taken into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence outside the MU athletics complex, an incident that was quickly followed by the arrest of junior linebacker Will Ebner, who was arrested on the same charge.