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Missouri opens season with veteran D-line

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Markus Golden isn't a conventional team captain. The senior defensive end transferred to Missouri from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College two years ago, and has no career starts with the Tigers.

He's not without experience, though.

Golden backed up NFL draft picks Michael Sam and Kony Ealy last season, yet managed to record 55 tackles - including 13 for loss - and 6 1/2 sacks. He's set to start in No. 24 Missouri's opener Saturday against South Dakota State, and says he doesn't feel any pressure in taking over.

''Oh, no, not at all,'' Golden said. ''Why would I be worried about filling any shoes? I'm the same person. I'm sticking to the same role I had last year, which was being myself out there and playing hard every play.''

Golden highlights a defensive line that features three seniors and a junior atop the depth chart despite losing its star power from a year ago. Tackles Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent have 34 combined starts while end Shane Ray played as a reserve in all 14 games last season. Sophomore tackles Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta are also expected to receive playing time.

Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said each of the four tackles is capable of starting, and that as long as the team figures out a rotation for them, there is no drawback to having reserves who can fill in at a moment's notice.

''It keeps everybody on their toes,'' he said. ''Just because they know that you can't look back. You've always got to look forward. So I think it helps our team compete.''

But there's no doubt the presence of Sam and Ealy will be missed, as the Tigers led the Southeastern Conference last year with 41 sacks and 108 tackles for loss. Hoch expanded on their contributions to the team, saying Sam and Ealy not only excelled on the field but also motivated teammates on the sidelines.

Golden is aiming to replicate those actions, preaching to younger players that as long as they put forth the effort on the field, they'll eventually become first-stringers. He thinks his split playing time with Sam challenged both players to raise the bar a notch.

''Just in terms of an emotional leader on defense, I don't know if we've had a guy like him since (current Atlanta Falcons player) Sean Weatherspoon,'' Kuligowski said. ''Just in terms of a guy who has that personality, is well-liked and has that energy about him.''

Since Weatherspoon's final season in 2009, Missouri has featured several prominent defensive linemen, including Sam, Ealy, Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson, so Kuligowski's praise carries some weight. But Golden refuses to reminisce, choosing to focus on South Dakota State instead.

The Jackrabbits play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in the Championship Subdivision, and feature a pair of veteran offensive players who can pose problems for opposing defensive lines.

Quarterback Austin Sumner already holds school records in completions (631), attempts (1,085) and passing yards (7,824), and needs six more touchdowns to match Ryan Berry at 56. Running back Zach Zenner last year became the second FCS player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in two separate seasons.

''You feel like you have the go-to guy at every one of the positions,'' coach John Stiegelmeier told his school's website. ''But also the confidence they give the other members of the team, just because they've done it, they've worked hard. They're no different than you are. There's a double whammy with their presence.''

Whatever happens, Golden can't wait to get started.

''That's the best thing about football,'' he said. ''Every year's a new year.''