COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri football team lost two starters in its defensive secondary this offseason, but it was possible the Tigers could have lost another one.
Talented cornerback Aarion Penton, a two-year starter, looked into the NFL Draft process and received an evaluation on where he might be selected if he opted to skip his senior season and depart Columbia early.
“I looked a little bit, just by getting evaluated and getting the feedback back,” Penton said following a recent spring practice. “They said it’s best for me to come back and try to be a first or second-round pick. The sky’s the limit from now on. I’m just trying to be positive and be a great leader and expect big things this season.”
Penton, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from CBC High School in St. Louis, wasn’t told what round he may have been picked in, just that it would be in his best interest to stay in school.
“They tell you either if you’re first or second,” Penton said. “If not they just tell you to come back and go hard again, play another season.”
Penton said he didn’t know what to expect from the draft evaluation process but now he’s taking it and running with it.
“Coach (Gary) Pinkel told me whatever feedback I got he would be honest with me and lead me the right way and that was just to come back and play my last season,” the cornerback said.
Penton has been a key component to the Tigers’ defense for a few seasons now, starting two games as a freshman and then being a full-time starter the past two seasons.
He finished fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, as a junior in 2015. He had eight pass break-ups, 4.5 tackles for loss and one interception. He also returned a punt 41 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against Southeast Missouri, which was his first career touchdown.
Penton recorded three interceptions and 10 pass break-ups as a sophomore in 2014, his first as a full-time starter.
What is he looking to do better in his final season?
“Pretty much just keep my quarterback (completion) percentage rating low and just do my job, like Coach (DeMontie) Cross said,” Penton said. “If my job is to just guard their best receiver all game and make sure he doesn’t catch any passes, then that’s just my job and what I have to do. I’m looking forward to the season.”
Penton’s job this fall will likely be covering the opponent’s top receiver.
“It’s just man across the board, just match-up game,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to making a lot plays and just taking the pass game out of the (equation).”
The Tigers return eight starters on defense from last year’s group that ranked as one of the best in the nation. But they only return two starters in the defensive secondary in Penton and strong safety Anthony Sherrils.
Penton likes what he has seen from the younger players during spring practices.
“So far, from what I’ve seen, all the young guys are doing good and we’re communicating,” Penton said. “That’s rule No. 1 on the defense, to make sure everyone is on the same page. I see a lot of talent from the young guys, speed, and they are smart.”
The Tigers return considerable depth from their talented front seven, which should help the secondary. But Penton, Sherrils and Co. will be counted on to make plays whenever they get the opportunity — if they do that, Missouri should have one of the toughest defenses in the Southeastern Conference again this fall.