Voice of the Fantlebury: Signing Day Memories
After being hired by Gabe right around the time I graduated from Mizzou in Dec. 2008, I officially started at PowerMizzou as a recruiting reporter in January 2009 — just in time for the lead-up to National Signing Day.
Given that was 11 years ago, I can’t remember the totality of that day. Back then — and, Jesus, that makes me feel old — Twitter was still in its relative infancy and there was value in covering signing ceremonies, even for long-committed guys. We split up the signings, and I covered some of the St. Louis (a fine city with a fine baseball team, definitely some of the top fans in the sport, for sure) area, although Gabe covered the headliner — Sheldon Richardson.
I remember my first stop was East St. Louis, to see Ty Phillips sign with Missouri. He, unfortunately, never made it to campus. From there, I covered signing ceremonies for TJ Moe and Jack Meiners, stopping in between for a phone interview with Chris Freeman — the gargantuan tackle from Trotwood, Ohio, — who had just picked Missouri.
Also included in that class: Blaine Dalton. In a funny-how-life-works-out-twist, I now work closely with Dalton’s brother at my current job (and Blaine is doing well, my source says).
Now we’re at the end of another Signing Day. It’s an event that’s lost some of its luster and meaning because of technology and these damn kids and just because the world keeps turning. But I find myself nostalgic, thinking back to that first signing day, to driving my 2006 Toyota Scion from all over St. Louis to talk to kids who signed fake letters for photo ops. They still do that. I still have that car, too, just barely hanging on as I’m too cheap to make the plunge for a new one while this one has a heartbeat.
There are a lot of signing day memories swirling through my head. Some happy, some sad. I remember that 2010 class — still Missouri’s highest-rated in the Rivals era — that was signed, sealed and delivered before 10 am on Signing Day. The drama all unfolded in December that year. Here are the guys Missouri landed in the last month of the year:
Five of those guys became, at the least, consistent starters for Missouri and, at the most, legitimate stars. Hoch was Missouri’s final commitment of the class, on Dec. 21. Missouri didn’t receive a commitment on Signing Day 2010; it didn’t even receive a commitment in January of that year. The class still finished in the top-20 rankings; it became the backbone of the most successful two-year run in Missouri football history. I think there’s something to be said about the lack of drama in that signing class carrying over to its widespread success on the field.
Then there was that 2012 Signing Day. It was the Dorial Green-Beckham Signing Day, where I was just in Springfield, covering Green-Beckham’s nationally-televised announcement. It become a momentous day for Missouri football — months after announcing its move to the SEC, a few months ahead of its first game in the conference, Missouri landed the nation’s top player.
It was a huge coup. Missouri had been written off multiple times throughout that recruitment. Every time a report came out that it was Texas or Arkansas or Oklahoma, I’d have to talk to people around Green-Beckham and always got the same response:
‘Missouri will be in it until the end.’
No matter how unlikely, that’s how it played out. Missouri laid all its cards out on that final weekend, on Green-Beckham’s official visit, with handmade signs appearing on the roads from Springfield all the way to the MATC and Mizzou Arena. A grassroots campaign of support at the basketball game — to this day, it was probably the closest Missouri’s been to an honest-to-goodness, batshit-crazy SEC fanbase.
But here’s what I remember most about that Wednesday morning in Springfield, in Hillcrest’s gym:
I remember standing near the top of the bleachers, around 7:15 am, next to Green-Beckham’s father, John. We were talking about this day for his son, the path that led them there. He was wearing a red tie — we joked about that, as I said, ‘So, Arkansas, huh?’.
Here’s what still stands out to me, though. In talking about that official visit and the hype and attention around it, John said, “I just hope he’s ready for it.”
You all know the story from there. I think about that moment often, but every year around the first Wednesday in February, it pops into my head more often.