Un-Locked: Making Mizzou's QB
The game against Tennessee was five hours away. In a hallway of the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex, Drew Lock, the once and future savior of the Missouri football program, sat by himself with his head in his hands.
When an assistant coach came upon him and asked what was wrong, the freshman quarterback offered a vulnerable response that did not bode well for the Tigers’ hopes of salvaging a season gone sideways.
“I am so lost.”
He meant it in more ways than one.
Lock was such a gifted high school athlete that his worst moments were the phone calls in which he had to tell college coaches in two sports that would not be playing for them. He would go on to throw more touchdown passes in one season than anyone else in history of the mighty Southeastern Conference and head into his senior season as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
But sitting in that hallway on Nov. 21, 2015, he was the confused leader of a dysfunctional offense … on a team that had become a pariah to many of its own fans … with a coach who had just announced he was retiring. It was a chaotic season that left him mentally and physically beaten and strongly considering a transfer away from the school where his father and grandfather had played.
Ultimately, though, when faced with a fight-or-flight response, Lock chose to fight. He became a player who many consider a lock to be an NFL first-round draft pick in 2019.
Over the next five days, PowerMizzou.com will tell the story of Lock's winding road to becoming the quarterback Missouri is now promoting as a Heisman candidate and how the twists and turns along the way have shaped him as a football player and a person.
PART ONE: DREW TO THE ZOU
It is almost impossible to anticipate life’s important intersections, the times and places when two people — or, in this case, a person and a program — will connect. In the case of Drew Lock, one of the nation’s best young quarterbacks charting a path to his future college team, the starting point was November 30, 2000.
It was an ordinary late autumn afternoon in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Andy Lock was tossing a Nerf football with his 4-year-old son, Drew. His wife, Laura, was tending to the couple’s 10-month-old daughter, Claire.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, Andy’s alma mater was introducing the 31st head football coach in University of Missouri history. Gary Pinkel was that coach, and he promised Tiger fans a balanced brand of football. That balance would start with the quarterback position.
Neither Pinkel nor the Locks could have imagined it at the time, but 11 years later, that four-year-old would become Pinkel’s primary target to lead MU’s offense.
The Locks were an athletic couple. Laura was a highly decorated basketball player at Centralia High School. Andy was the anchor of Missouri’s offensive line in the late 1980s. They recognized talent, and it was clear their son had an abundance of it.
“His eye-hand coordination was amazing. At age 3, he could catch and throw a small football. We spent hours just tossing it back and forth,” Andy said. “When it wasn’t football, he would be shooting a plastic basketball at his tiny tyke hoop.”
In the Lock family, Andy is the optimist and Laura the realist. While her husband was impressed by Drew’s prodigious athletic gifts, Laura was embarrassed that her son who was about to enter kindergarten couldn’t figure out how to use a pair of scissors.
“It was my job to fix things,” Laura said. “He could catch, but he couldn’t cut. That boy was going to learn how to use those scissors. I’m very competitive, and we were going to get it right.”
While his art career didn’t come naturally, everything else did. Drew was always the biggest boy in his class. His athletic skills were exceptional, and the Locks knew he would have to play sports in older age groups to be challenged.
Playing against older athletes often took a physical toll, but it hardened him. He was determined to set himself up for success. The only question was: In which sport?
He was great at baseball, but the pace bored him. He gravitated to basketball and football.
Football was fun, but basketball was his passion. Well over six feet tall entering his freshman year at Lee’s Summit High School, Drew started to excel. He was the best ballhandler on the team. For a while in grade school, Drew thought he was left-handed — a notion Laura did nothing to dispel, although she knew different — and he developed into an ambidextrous dribbler.
He had no weak hand, and he never looked down. He also never doubted he was the best player on his team.
That confidence carried over to the high school basketball court as he became a varsity starter as a freshman. In his first game, he made five three-pointers and scored 26 points as Lee’s Summit defeated Truman 67-62. After that season, letters from college basketball coaches began to arrive in the Locks’ mailbox. Interest from football coaches had yet to begin, as Drew didn’t establish himself as Lee’s Summit’s starting quarterback until his sophomore year.
While Drew was growing up, so was the Missouri football team. Pinkel inherited a program that had posted two winning records in the 17 seasons before his arrival. As promised, Pinkel’s path to success began with a quarterback. He started with a gem named Brad Smith, a lightly recruited player from Youngstown, Ohio.
In Pinkel’s second season, Smith caught the Big 12 Conference by surprise, becoming only the second quarterback in Division I history to have 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season. With Smith gliding to greatness, the Tigers were on the right path.
Football was becoming THE sport at Mizzou. Pinkel started stringing together winning seasons. Memorial Stadium, which Pinkel nicknamed “The Zou,” became a loud and unwelcoming place for opponents.
During his 15-year tenure, Pinkel and his staff excelled at evaluating talent and developing players overlooked by other programs. One productive quarterback handed the baton to the next. It started with Smith and continued with Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin. All of them went on to play football professionally. During this run, Missouri’s athletic department used the momentum of its football program to make a conference move.
In 2011, Missouri, along with Texas A&M, left the Big 12 and joined the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers were now competing on college football’s biggest stage.
Missouri held annual recruiting camps around the state. One of them took place in Liberty at William Jewell College. Andy Hill was the MU assistant coach who recruited the Kansas City area. He had already established a relationship with Andy Lock. Both were small-town guys — Lock is from Carrollton and Hill from Trenton. Both played at Missouri. Between the two of them, there was enough personality to fill an empty stadium.
“Laura and Andy are great, great people,” Hill said. “We had a natural kinship.”
You can recruit on kinship, but you make scholarship offers on talent. Drew gave Hill and the rest of the camp a sneak peek of his skills.
“We used to ask a few guys to hang back after a camp session was over — four to five quarterbacks and a handful of receivers,” Hill said. “Most of them were juniors and seniors.”
Hill and MU offensive coordinator David Yost asked the quarterbacks to stand on the 40-yard line and throw toward the opposite end zone. A few of the quarterbacks managed to land balls inside the 10. Then it was it was Lock’s turn.
“I was pretty confident I could beat them, even though they were older,” he recalled.
With that, he launched a spiral that landed in 3 yards deep in the end zone.
“It wasn’t jaw-dropping, but it got our attention,” Pinkel said. “His arm potential was significant.”
Hill thought Drew was already as good as any senior quarterback in the state. That’s when it happened. That day was the intersection of Drew Lock and the Missouri football program.
Of course, the intersection could as easily have been with the Missouri basketball program. Frank Haith was showing interest, as were the coaches of many other Midwest schools, including Wichita State and Oklahoma.
The plan was to play two sports as long as he could. But under the mentorship of his high school football coach, Eric Thomas, the greater potential was developing in that sport.
“He didn’t pick football — football picked him,” Andy Lock said. “He really was getting comfortable, and he felt it was going to be his future.”
Missouri was the first school to offer him a football scholarship. It came in his sophomore year. He immediately called his father to share the news.
“He was so excited,” Andy said. “It was like seeing a cool dream come true.”
His productivity took off as a junior, when he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was no longer Missouri’s secret. Ohio State, Michigan State, Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas were just a few of the major programs to recruit him.
Current Missouri offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton, who played at Lee’s Summit West, remembers the hype.
“Living in Kansas City at that time, Drew was certainly creating a lot of buzz,” Pendleton said.
Missouri was always the first choice. His grandfather and his father had both played at Missouri. He saw himself as the next part of that legacy. However, he was in no hurry to make a commitment. The recruiting process, and all the attention that comes with it, can be very enjoyable and enlightening for a 16-year-old boy.
“I’ll never forget my junior football season,” Drew said. “We were in the middle of stretching before football practice. Coach Thomas came over and told me someone wanted to talk to me. I got up and walked towards the sideline. I couldn’t believe it, the Wichita State head basketball coach (Gregg Marshall) was there at my football practice. He said, ‘I want to offer you a full ride to play basketball at Wichita State. I hope you’ll give it strong consideration.’ That was really cool.”
More than a year had passed since Hill and Pinkel offered Drew. Offers were stacking up, and so was the pressure.
“Coach Hill was encouraging me to commit soon,” Drew recalled. “He felt it would entice some other in-state players to commit as well.”
Missouri’s staff had its contingency plans if its first choice didn’t say yes.
“I was so pissed when I heard they were going to offer another guy,” he said. “I understand it now, but at the time, I was mad. Missouri is MY state, Mizzou is MY school, and I was going to be its quarterback.”
“He was fired up when he found out,” his father said with a laugh. “He told me it felt the same as someone trying to steal your girlfriend.”
And with that, Drew Lock verbally committed to play football at Missouri.
Both excited and relieved, he knew it was time to tell the other schools. Delivering the news was not easy.
“He wants to please people, not disappoint them,” his mother said. “He had built relationships with these coaches and he dreaded letting them down. He loves (Oklahoma basketball coach) Lon Kruger and they talked all the time. That was one of the tougher conversations for him, to tell Coach Kruger he was going to play football at Missouri. As a mother, I wanted him close, but picking MU over some of those traditional schools, I wondered if he was making the right decision. Drew knew it was right all along.”
Drew waded through the emotional exercise of informing every coach who recruited him that Missouri was his choice. In a time when he should have been celebrating, the weight of those calls bothered him. That was the worst part of the recruiting process, especially when a coach did not take no for an answer.
Just one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers parted ways after the 2014 season. He headed back to his alma mater and became Michigan’s coach.
Drew had already completed his senior football season, so Harbaugh’s only chance to watch this quarterback recruit was during the basketball season. Appreciating Harbaugh’s passion for football and his aggressive style, Drew was intrigued. He verbally committed to Missouri, but National Letter of Intent signing day was still to come, and recruiting is never over until the letter is signed.
They talked at length several times. Harbaugh knew exactly where to apply pressure and create doubt.
“I really liked Coach Harbaugh, but he was trying to get me to change my mind,” Drew said. “He told me I would never make it to the NFL if I went to Missouri. He said he would be the best coach to groom me for the NFL.”
Pinkel recalls that stretch to signing day.
“We were a little concerned,” Pinkel said. “Harbaugh got in late, but made an immediate connection. It was Michigan, but we had faith in Drew and his word.”
Drew enjoyed talking with Harbaugh but didn’t care for the criticism of Missouri. Maybe that comment was the tipping point. Or maybe it was Laura Lock telling her son to lay it on the line with the Wolverines coach.
“They had been on the phone talking for about 30 minutes, and you could tell Drew was just waffling in the conversation,” she said. “He didn’t want to hurt Harbaugh. I stepped in and gave him the ‘cut’ signal.”
“Sorry, Coach, my mind is made up,” he said. “I’m going to Missouri.”
On Feb. 4, 2015, it became official. With the signing of his national letter of intent, Drew was going to the Zou.
Up next in the second segment of a five-part series, we look Drew Lock, a star on the football field who wants nothing more than to be anonymous off of it.