Back from suspension, MU’s Logan driven to finish strong

October 28, 2017

COLUMBIA, MO. • When Missouri nose tackle A.J. Logan returned from a six-game suspension last week, he volunteered to play anywhere the staff could find a place for him. He urged Tigers coach Barry Odom to put him on special teams, even the kickoff return unit — not the place you find a 330-pound human being.

“He wants to play as many snaps as he can play,” Odom said, “because he knows he doesn’t have much time left.”

Logan, a starter in every game in 2016, was suspended for the first half of the regular season because of his role in the school’s academic fraud case involving a former tutor. In his first interview since the suspension was announced Sept. 2, Logan declined to address what led to the suspension, but there was a relief in his voice mixed with an urgency to finish his college career strong.

“I’ve got six games to make up for,” he said Tuesday.

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Logan, off limits to reporters during preseason camp for undisclosed reasons, then sat out the Tigers’ season-opening win over Missouri State, after which the school announced his suspension, making him the first player publicly tied to the investigation launched last November when Yolanda Kumar, a former MU athletics tutor in math and statistics, admitted she committed academic fraud with 42 student-athletes. Earlier this year, Kumar told the Post-Dispatch she finished assignments for students from all MU teams but only completed courses or took exams for members of the football and men’s basketball teams. Kumar, who said she met with NCAA investigators and Mizzou compliance officials in January, has said she took exams for four athletes. The school and the NCAA have not announced any further penalties or findings related to the investigation.

It’s unclear how Kumar helped Logan, but in a statement released in September, Logan said he cooperated with the university and the NCAA and took “full responsibility” for his actions. Logan is on schedule to graduate with a degree in general studies in December.

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In his first game back last week, Logan started against Idaho, giving the Tigers (2-5) an experienced inside presence they’ve been missing all season. He’s expected to stay in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game at Connecticut (3-4).

“Man, it was a long journey” Logan said after his first game, which included a tackle in the backfield. “But it was fun.”

“I’m so proud of that guy,” Odom said. “He’s done an unbelievable job handling this situation, really, quite honestly, better than I did probably.”

While Logan couldn’t play in games during the suspension, he was allowed to practice. Each day, he played on the defensive scout team, surrounded by freshmen and walk-ons, and worked against the offensive starters, simulating the next opponent’s defense. When injuries depleted the depth along Mizzou’s offensive scout team, Logan volunteered to play offensive guard for a week, so he could trade blows in practice with his fellow D-linemen.

“I was like, man, I miss my brothers over there on defense,” he said. “I hopped right in. No questions asked. If we needed a look, we got it.”

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How did Logan fare as a blocker instead of a tackler?

“Look, I don’t even want to talk about that,” defensive end Tre Williams said, laughing. “He tried to clean me up one time. … You never see an O-lineman like that. It was so different because he was actually trying to hit you more than block you.”

At his natural position along the front four, the 6-foot-2 Logan has been a regular in the rotation since his sophomore year in 2015, making 37 career tackles in 28 games. While he was a disruptive force at Columbia’s Rock Bridge High School, where he piled up 94 tackles as a senior, Logan’s role in Odom’s system is more about angles, leverage and creating space for teammates to roam.

“A.J. Logan is like a cork,” Williams said. “He plugs everything up. … He’s big, but he’s full of energy. You ever see him walk? He walks on his tippy toes. You see a big dude walk on his tippy toes, I wouldn’t mess with him. He’s pretty agile. You try to run from him and he’ll catch you.”

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“A.J. is as assignment-sound as anybody,” Odom said. “He’s got really good body leverage. That’s what they normally say about short guys. I heard that all the time about me. He’s also got great quickness and tremendous strength.”

It’s no surprise to hear Odom talk fondly of his senior. In high school, Logan’s first scholarship offer came from Odom when he was Memphis’ defensive coordinator.

“I love Coach Odom to death,” Logan said. “I can’t put that into words for you.”

Logan later committed to Mizzou — the day former coach Gary Pinkel offered a scholarship — with no haste or second thoughts, for a good reason. During his senior year of high school, Logan became a father. His son Aven turns 5 in January.

Logan is driven to provide his son the structure he didn’t always have growing up. When Logan was in high school, his mother was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing and forgery. An older brother was convicted of second-degree murder. Another brother was imprisoned for robbery.

With football as a guidepost, Logan steered his life away from those troubles, and until his role in the academic fraud allegations, played football without incident at Mizzou.

With Aven in the stands for home games and never far from his mind, Logan will spend the rest of the season making up for lost time as time runs out.

“He’s the reason I came to Mizzou,” Logan said. “He’s the reason I play football. I just want to make sure that kid has everything he needs and doesn’t have to worry about anything.”