First-year Missouri head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz has been described by his new staff and players as a high-energy leader.
A prime example of that passion came early on national signing day Wednesday, as Duncanville (Texas) three-star cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr. committed to Missouri. The program received his official paperwork soon after.
Missouri was Rakestraw’s first Power Five Conference offer back in October, but other schools came flowing into his recruitment after Duncanville was a state runner-up in Texas’ largest high school football classification.
Rakestraw narrowed his list to Missouri, Alabama and Texas before national signing day. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban made an in-home visit to Rakestraw, while Missouri brought a quartet of coaches to the Dallas area to court Rakestraw to Columbia.
On Wednesday morning, Drinkwitz and the rest of the Tigers staff found out Rakestraw's decision with everyone else — on a live stream.
As Rakestraw announced his intention to join the Tigers, Drinkwitz, watching on his phone from Missouri’s football offices in the South End Zone complex, yelled, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, yes!”
Drinkwitz proceeded to make a commotion, going down the hallway and hugging defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, then defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison and secondary coach David Gibbs.
“Either I’m one heck of an actor or I was totally shocked — one of the two,” Drinkwitz said of his reaction to Rakestraw’s commitment. “I knew we had a great relationship and he’d given us an indication that he was going to come here, but we had not heard from him in a few hours. ... I was not sure, I was not sure at all.
“I knew that a couple other schools had made really strong cases and obviously had been in the home and (he had) been on official visits and knew that they really wanted him really bad. But credit to coach Gibbs, coach Harbison, coach Walters for building a relationship with high school coach, with parents, with all the influencers, and they did a really nice job of getting us over the top there.
“But I was that excited for everybody. They just happened to film that one.”
A video of Drinkwitz's reaction, posted to the program's social media accounts Wednesday morning, garnered over 1 million combined views by later in the day.
"That was awesome to see his excitement about getting a kid. It was really cool to see,” Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin admitted on SEC Network.
Despite having a three-star rating on most recruiting websites, Rakestraw was viewed by many across the country as one of the best defensive backs left unsigned.
With DeMarkus Acy graduating and Christian Holmes transferring away from Missouri, Rakestraw has a chance to see playing time from the moment he steps on campus.
In addition to the 10 players Missouri signed in December, the program has added seven more players to its roster since Jan. 29, as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
They include Rakestraw, junior college transfer defensive lineman Ben Key and graduate transfer wide receiver Damon Hazelton Jr., who played at Virginia Tech the past two seasons.
Drinkwitz said he anticipates Hazelton being eligible for the 2020 season even though it's his second time transferring. Hazelton played for Ball State before suiting up for the Hokies.
Key, from Cranbourne West, Australia, had his parents fly in from Down Under in order for Drinkwitz and his assistants to build a relationship with them.
The Tigers also added a quartet of incoming freshmen: defensive lineman Johnny Walker Jr., offensive lineman Dylan Spencer, defensive lineman Montra Edwards Jr. and wide receiver Kris Abrams-Draine.
“When we got this opportunity to create the new Zou, we knew we needed to look for the right fit,” Drinkwitz said of the recruiting class as a whole, "and to find focused intangibles, talented and tough players who would fit into our culture and what we're trying to do moving forward. And we wanted to be very strategic on how we did that. We knew we only had a certain amount of slots and scholarships available just due to external factors.”
Missouri’s scholarship total is down to 81 from the usual 85 because of NCAA sanctions as a result of an academic fraud case involving a former tutor.
Drinkwitz said MU still has roster flexibility to add more athletes before the Division I signing window closes in early April.
The entire coaching staff will get a chance to further assess the roster's strengths and weaknesses when spring practices start March 7.
“It's not hard to sell Mizzou. There's only one Mizzou,” Drinkwitz said. “We have a lot of strengths in this state. We have the SEC, we have the (South End Zone complex). We have a growth mindset from our Board of Curators, from our chancellor, from our president to our athletic director. We're committed to excellence and committed to being the very best football program that we can be as well as being a great academic institution.
“And when you can get in front of somebody and let them know that that vision is aligned together, it's easy to get people to jump on board with that.”