Of all the football recruits who will punch a 573 area code into their high school’s fax machine today to ship their national letter of intent, there’s been one the Missouri coaches have been waiting for the longest.

Mizzou first offered offensive lineman Andy Bauer a scholarship shortly after his freshman year at De Smet. A precocious and ferocious blocker as a 15-year-old, Bauer already had started for the varsity team at offensive tackle. The Tigers’ coaches identified him early.

Three years later, an exhausting process that’s left Bauer and his family sometimes overwhelmed by the twists and turns of the recruiting process — a circuitous experience caused some by his own wavering heart and mind — ends today when he signs his letter of intent.

“Hindsight’s always 20-20, so I try not to look back,” Bauer said. “I was always trying to do what was best for myself and my family. But everything worked out the way it’s supposed to be.”

Bauer is one of three local recruits who plan to sign today with Mizzou, along with St. Louis University High defensive back Raymond Wingo and East St. Louis safety Greg Taylor. A handful of out-of-state uncommitted prospects holding Missouri offers will announce their decision today, putting MU’s class anywhere from 26 to 30-plus players.

For Bauer, there hasn’t been a moment of indecision since the first week of November. That’s when he called Missouri coach Gary Pinkel to tell him he officially was back on board after flipping his initial verbal commitment from Mizzou to Mississippi a year earlier.

He would stop taking phone calls from other coaches and stop answering messages through social media sites.

“I made it pretty clear (to other schools) I was done,” Bauer said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Mizzou. It’s where I always wanted to go growing up.”

TOO QUICK OF A CALL

If there’s one part of the recruiting process that leaves Craig Bauer with regret it’s that he allowed his son to commit to Mizzou so early in the process. Bauer first pledged his commitment in April 2012. He was a sophomore, just 16 at the time.

“As a father,” he said, “I should have probably done more to stop that because that’s so young to make a decision.”

The offers had just barely started to pour in. The total eventually came close to 50. (Bauer said he stopped counting in the mid 40s.) The nation’s best programs from the Southeastern Conference, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC all wanted Bauer along their offensive line.

But as Mizzou began to stumble through its first season in the SEC, Bauer began to reconsider his options. He’d already formed a strong relationship with the coaching staff, especially offensive line coach Josh Henson. If there might be a coaching change in the near future — like most fans, the Bauers wondered about Pinkel’s job status if the struggles persisted — Bauer figured he should look elsewhere.

Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Ole Miss all shared time on his radar. Last March, while Mizzou was recovering from a 5-7 debut SEC season, Bauer visited Oxford, Miss., and committed to Ole Miss.

But the home-state Tigers always were close to his heart and never far from his mind. Craig Bauer, his brother and other relatives had attended Mizzou, and during Andy’s childhood, the extended family spent many fall Saturdays driving down I-70 for afternoons at Memorial Stadium.

“We’d go to Mizzou games and he’d roll down that hill,” Craig said. “We’ve followed Mizzou forever.”

That’s why Bauer never cut off Missouri’s coaches, especially Henson. Three times last fall, Bauer and his dad drove to Columbia during the week, met with Henson in his office and talked football late into the evening. He was still committed to Ole Miss, but not for long. Missouri won its first seven games, and by late October any concerns about Pinkel’s job security were gone.

“Knowing Coach Pinkel was going to be there, that was always a huge thing for me,” Bauer said.

TURNING TO THE TIGERS

By Halloween, Bauer had decided. He’d drop his pledge to Ole Miss and recommit to Mizzou. He explained his decision in a 246-word statement he posted on Instagram.

“That’s the polite way of doing it,” Craig said. “I told him, ‘Don’t go show up Ole Miss. Don’t do interviews. Just write down your true feelings.’”

By then, Bauer’s senior year had gotten off to a difficult start. Shortly before De Smet’s season he underwent tests for a nagging pain he’d felt in his hip. Dr. David King, a leading hip specialist in St. Louis, diagnosed Bauer with a labral tear. Football players, especially linemen, put stress on the area by squatting and thrusting, King said. On top of that, King found a underlying condition on the bone called a cam impingement.

“Basically where the round ball of the hip meets the neck of the femur, instead of having a nice smooth transition there’s a bump,” King said. “That bump causes more stress on the labrum as well.”

Labral tears are becoming increasingly common in athletes, especially hockey players, King said. And experts are unsure why. Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin missed most of the season after suffering from the same injury. In August, King performed arthroscopic surgery on Bauer and removed the piece of bone, ending the lineman’s senior season before it began.

“It’s just something I had to accept,” said Bauer, who lost nearly 40 pounds during the season but has since replaced fat with muscle and weighs in the 290s. “I was devastated but you can’t sit and dwell. You can’t focus on what you can’t control. I had to accept it and move forward.”