COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Gary Pinkel got his first real coaching job in 1976. Since then, he's never seen anything like Brad Madison.
Madison came to Missouri as an offensive lineman, spent a season at the position, then moved to defensive end last spring. In 2010, he led the Tigers in sacks, with 7.5, two more than any other player on the team. He also led the team with 11 tackles for loss.
"You recruit a guy as an offensive lineman and he ends up being an all-conference defensive end. That’ll never happen. That’s never happened in 34 years of coaching and that’ll never happen again," Pinkel said. "It never happens."
To quote a teenage, floppy-banged philosopher, "Never say never."
Nevermind that Madison did all that as a backup, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors despite being on Missouri's second team, too.
With the man ahead of him on the depth chart gone to the NFL, Madison has an opportunity in 2011 to become one of the league's premier pass-rushers as he moves into full-time duty.
"He’s good, he’s quick, he’s talented. His spin quick move is like a flash," Pinkel said. "He’s the great story."
The man ahead of him on the depth chart in 2010 was star defensive end Aldon Smith, who is likely first-round selection in next month's NFL draft. Smith broke a bone in his leg late against San Diego State and had to sit for four games, giving Madison a chance to shine.
"Coach always tells us to prepare like you’re starting even when you’re not, so I kind of knew what to do," Madison said. "but I knew if I had questions I could ask some older guys. It just kind of took care of itself."
Mop-up duty in an earlier game against McNeese State helped prepare him, Madison said. Madison says he played well, but he put up modest numbers in lopsided wins over Miami (Ohio) and Colorado. In the Tigers' first true road game, a 30-9 win over Texas A&M at Kyle Field, Madison sacked quarterback Jerrod Johnson three times as part of a defense that held the Aggies scoreless while the Tigers score the game's first 23 points.
"That was probably the best game of my career by far. It was pretty exciting," Madison said. "I just need to be more consistent and play like that every game this year."
Modestly, Madison admits he was matched up one-on-one for much of the game with true freshman left tackle Luke Joeckel.
"We were kind of in the same spot," he said. "We were both kind of new to the game and I just came out and played well."
He added 3.5 more sacks in a three-game stretch in conference play, including road games against Texas Tech and Iowa State.
So how'd he flip to the other side of the line of scrimmage. For one, raw data.
"We saw his 40 time, his jump, and we were going, 'This guy might be able to play defensive end,'" Pinkel said.
Added Madison: "In the back of my head, I kind of wanted to play that when I first got here, but my brother played on the offensive line, so I kind of just followed in his footsteps."
Pinkel and Madison met after the season and decided to make the switch. A little over a year later, it's paid off.