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October 8, 2013
From Tigers to Titans
NASHVILLE, TN--Not every NFL career is full of the glitz and glamor of a superstar. Many of the select few who can call themselves professional football players toil relative obscurity.
For two former Missouri Tigers, that is the case right now. Zaviar Gooden and Beau Brinkley make their livings hurling themselves down the field on the Tennessee Titans' special teams units.
Neither player was on the field for even one of the 128 offensive plays on Sunday in the Titans' game against the Kansas City Chiefs. But Gooden was in on every kicking team for the Titans in the first quarter-and-a-half before a hamstring injury took him off the field. Brinkley is the Titans' longsnapper, the most specialized--and if you're good at it, the most secure--job in professional football.
"Shoot, I really take it one day at a time," Brinkley said. "Back in college, I was just living in the moment. Mizzou, that place is awesome and I was just playing out every moment because it was going to be my last year there.
"It ended up working for me and I'm very blessed."
These former college teammates are in the midst of making the transition from football for fun to football as a job. Brinkley was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 while Gooden was Tennessee's third-round draft choice last April.
"You see a lot of dudes come and go and a lot of things change here. A lot of the burden is put on you. You're a professional. You've got to do your job so people aren't really checking on you and making sure you do things. You're pretty independent," Gooden said. "It's been real hectic. Busiest time of my life."
"First year was just kind of developing the speed of the game and learning schemes and stuff. That was kind of difficult," Brinkley said. "I'm just trying to fit in, trying to do my job, do what they brought me for, trying to get better every game, every practice. Just keeping that positive spirit. That's what I learned at Mizzou. Always staying positive in adversity is a good thing."
For each, the presence of a friend from college has made the move to life in the NFL and a new city much more pleasant.
"I love it. It's awesome having a Mizzou guy here," Brinkley said. "Whenever people talk trash on Mizzou, it's an extra guy to talk. Zaviar's a great player. I loved watching him in college, I loved playing with him. He's a hard-nosed quiet kid who's gonna knock you in the teeth when he has to."
Both former Tigers relished the opportunity to catch up with their alma mater over the weekend. Missouri beat Vanderbilt 51-28 on Saturday night just a few miles from LP Field, where the Titans play. Gooden stopped in the team hotel to talk to former coaches and teammates on Friday night. Brinkley was able to catch about a quarter of the Tiger victory in person before returning to the team hotel the night before the game.
"We were excited to see the Mizzou game and see them get a good SEC win," Gooden said. "Hopefully they'll keep doing what they're doing."
"It doesn't surprise me," Brinkley said. "We're going in with some swagger. I got to see a lot of guys that I haven't seen in a while and they had this look to them. I've got a good feeling about this year."
The pair takes great pride in their school, especially now that Missouri is or regional interest to many Titans fans as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
"It's still kind of a new thing, honestly," Gooden said. "I think they'll turn heads and pretty much get the respect this year that they're looking for. It's kind of a new thing, some people still ask me, 'You all were in the SEC last year?' They didn't even know."
"I was a Big 12 guy so I didn't play in the SEC," Brinkley said. "I give (Michael) Griffin crap about being from Texas and their struggles right now. But you know, it's just all good fun. Nobody's serious bashing on other people's schools. I try to back us up as much as I can. I'm just a longsnapper trying to talk trash to an offensive lineman or a starting safety. I've got to get a little mean sometimes."
"Guys are always keeping up with each other, seeing how their schools are doing, talking smack," Gooden said. "It's a lot of pride that goes into it and I'm going to be a Tiger for life."
Brinkley and Gooden have joined a growing list of Mizzou alumni in the NFL in recent years. And they hope to have more company soon.
"Mizzou's doing big things right now and all the guys we've got in the league are all doing really well," Gooden said. "I see a lot more that are going to be in the league in a couple years. They're building something great there. We're building a good reputation for putting guys out."
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