football Edit

Missouri, as usual, is looking to prove everybody wrong

Nobody can play the disrespect card like an athlete. No team has ever felt like anyone outside the locker room believed in it. Every team plays with a chip on its shoulder, out to prove people wrong. The 2022 Missouri Tigers are no exception.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, but we have everything to prove, and we know that,” Tiger tight end Tyler Stephens said. “It doesn’t matter what the outside says.”

So we’ve established that. Missouri is one of 128 teams that is ready to prove the doubters wrong this season. That said, there might be something to it for these Tigers. Since the end of the 2014 season, Missouri is three games under .500. This year’s edition is picked, almost universally, to finish sixth in the SEC East. The main analysis of that pick is some version of “Well, at least Vanderbilt is in the division.” Everybody says nobody believes in them, but with Missouri it rings a lot closer to true than it does for most.

“I think it's easy to kind of take that chip on your shoulder when you see some of the things out there about us,” sixth-year senior and likely captain Barrett Banister said. “No one really thinks that we can amount to anything so you know, we'll take that for what it is. And, you know, we know what we are in the locker room and the coaches we have.”

Skepticism about this Missouri team isn’t unwarranted. The Tigers were one of the worst defenses in America for much of last year and are on their third defensive coordinator in three years. The offense struggled last season and the starting quarterback transferred out, replaced by Brady Cook, who has all of one career start and 65 passes in his college career. Tyler Badie is the only guy most people outside the Show-Me State knew about a year ago and he took his 1,934 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns off to Baltimore. So even if you don’t like it, you can probably understand where some of the skeptics are coming from. And it should also be obvious the players are going to use it as motivation.

“I don't think you ever want to get to where the chip on your shoulder where it's like we're turning against our own fans or anything like that,” Banister said. “But I do think having that edge about you and saying you know what, no one thinks we can do it. I mean, there's got to be some competitor in you. There's got to be some dog in you to be like okay, we can go do what people say we can’t.”

Banister, back for a sixth season, is one of Missouri's locker room leaders
Banister, back for a sixth season, is one of Missouri's locker room leaders (Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

Across its roster, Missouri is littered with players who have been told they can’t. A lot of them shouldn’t even be here, with Banister as the poster child. He was an unrecruited walk-on out of Fayetteville, Ark. in 2017 who came to Mizzou with his high school quarterback, Taylor Powell. Over the last four seasons, he’s worked his way into the rotation and caught 93 balls for 812 yards and two touchdowns. He’s earned a reputation as so sure-handed that some around the program talk about “Third down and Banister,” the situation in which Missouri has to move the chains so it will look to its most reliable pass catcher.

Starting quarterback Brady Cook had fewer stars and national offers than most of his SEC counterparts. Most of the off-season he was considered by many an afterthought in the race to replace Connor Bazelak, even though he started Missouri’s last game. The guy lining up behind Cook at running back in the season opener could be Cody Schrader, who transferred to Mizzou after leading Division II with more than 2,000 rushing yards up Highway 63 at Truman State last year. Earlier this week, Eli Drinkwitz called him Missouri’s most consistent running back in fall camp.

“That’s something I haven’t ever really gotten answers on,” Schrader said when asked why major college coaches didn’t recruit him out of Lutheran South High School a few years ago. “I wasn’t ever the biggest, fastest, strongest. You’d always hear about that eye test. I don’t know if I ever really passed it. I always thought I played pretty well.

“I just put my head down and grinded. I’m a workaholic when it comes to football.”

It translated into a chance—albeit a delayed one—at college football’s highest level. Just another Tiger looking to prove the doubters wrong.

“That's been really cool kind of to hear his journey and what inspired him to kind of make this jump to the SEC from Truman. It's been really cool. You know, he's just one of the harder workers I've seen and he's a great, great addition to our team,” Banister said. “You can run the rock, you can play, you know what I mean?”

Schrader finds himself in the thick of the conversation at running back
Schrader finds himself in the thick of the conversation at running back (Gabe DeArmond)

Whether it’s FCS transfer Connor Wood, late juco addition Zeke Powell, Power Five castoffs like Kristian Williams and Josh Landry, a sixth-year player looking for one last shot like Tyrone Hopper or any number of other Tigers, there are plenty of players who will hit the field this year looking to prove someone in their past that said they couldn’t play at this level wrong.

It’s August and thus everyone is optimistic, seeing the season through rose (or black and gold) colored lenses. Drinkwitz has been openly optimistic about this team, touting the enthusiasm and togetherness of his third team.

“This is the most excited I’ve been about a team and really the most comfortable I’ve felt walking in front of this team because everybody chose to be here,” the head coach said. “The first two years, there were guys I didn’t recruit, maybe they did or didn’t have the freedom to go.

“This is a group of guys who chose to be here and play for each other and understand what we’re asking them to do. And there’s power in that.”

With a new year comes excitement. The bad apples are gone, the problems have been fixed and the chemistry is better than it’s ever been. Everything looks better than it did a year ago. It's a universal refrain and this Missouri team, coming off a 6-7 season and an Armed Forces Bowl loss to Army, is no different.

“Last year, there was times where, you know, you didn't really know what you're getting yourself into,” redshirt freshman tight end Ryan Hoerstkamp said. “Everybody’s really bought in, you know, in the weight room, on the field, bought into the coaches, everything. So when everybody's bought in, you all have a similar goal, I mean, it's hard not to have fun.”

“Whenever you lose, a lot of things are magnified and it's really easy to overreact in one way or the other,” Banister said. “We’ve done eight months of this stuff and we’re not even in the fire yet. You know what I mean? So all this stuff that we're doing right now is in preparation and we got to, you know, stay together and not let it break us no matter what we go through this year.”

It can all add up to a team that overachieves in the eyes of the critics. Or those critics could turn out to be right. Four months from now, we’ll know which way it went.

All of our fall camp coverage is brought to you by Quirk Hard Seltzer from Boulevard Brewing Company. Quirk Hard Seltzers are made with real fruit juice and ingredient-driven flavor combinations. Clean, high quality and gluten-free, Quirk is infinitely enjoyable and brimming with unpredictably individuality—it’s hard seltzer with more personality.

Stay up to date on all the Mizzou news with your premium subscription

Talk about this story and more in The Tigers' Lair

Make sure you're caught up on all the Tiger news and headlines

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for video and live streaming coverage

Follow our entire staff on Twitter