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July 10, 2009Over the next month, leading up to the start of fall camp, PowerMizzou.com will preview the Tigers at every position on the field and examine a number of the questions facing one of the most intriguing seasons in the 120-year history of the Missouri program. To get yourself ready for the 2009 campaign, try out our free seven-day trial.
As their younger teammates were getting loose for another 7-on-7 workout under the blazing mid-Missouri sun, some of the Tigers' more experienced players hung back in the shade obliging interview requests on Thursday afternoon. When the impromptu media session was over, Sean Weatherspoon, Derrick Washington and Jaron Baston headed out to Faurot Field, each dragging a few extra pounds from this time last year.
This is no statement on their physical condition. Instead, it's a nod to the massive chips each carry on their shoulders entering the 2009 football season.
"No matter what anybody else is saying about us, I've just got to motivate the team, go out there and give it all they've got and just lay it on the line," Weatherspoon said. "What I try to do is just come out here and be positive. No matter what anybody else is saying, I always come out with something positive and hopefully they can feed off me a little bit. I love this game. I really love playing this game."
"We're looking forward to this season," added Washington. "To prove a lot of the doubters wrong."
There is no shortage of doubters. Some have picked Missouri to finish below .500. Most have predicted the Tigers will come crashing back, if not to the depths of the late eighties and nineties, at least back to earth.
One particular critic struck a chord with these Tigers. Phil Steele, whose publication some refer to as the Bible of college football, tabbed Mizzou to finish fifth in the Big 12 North and out of the bowl picture for the first time since 2004.
"We've got it posted up in the locker room, fifth in the Big 12 North. Every day when we walk in the locker room we look at that," Washington said. "We've got a lot to prove this year. I think we're going to be the underdog in a lot of games this year, but I think we like that."
"I don't know who put it up there, but I know that it's serving its purpose right now. A lot of guys talking about that big five on our board," Weatherspoon said. "Fifty-eight days, I think, till kickoff and we're just trying to prove to everybody that we're better."
The Tigers do admit they get the logic. At least to some extent.
"I understand what's going on, people picking us fifth," Spoon said. "You get six draft picks, a lot of people are going to think you're going to take a few steps back. But it's rebuild or reload and we choose to reload."
"I think it's probably because we got a new quarterback. Got a new quarterback, got to start over. They lost Jeremy Maclin, got to start over," said Baston. "But I'll put Danario Alexander and Jared Perry up against any receiver and I'll put Blaine Gabbert up against any quarterback. And our defense, the mentality we have right now, we're going to shock a lot of people."
They may get it. But they don't like it.
"That bothers me. Being here for five years, I've seen some teams that were said to be great that weren't in the position that we are right now," Baston said. "As soon as we start hearing we're ranked fifth in the North, we heard it before we started working out on the field and started running, if you came out and watched us out here, guys are attacking everything. Angry. That's how it's supposed to be. I feel if we win the Big 12 North two years in a row and then we get pushed back because we lost some great talent, it's kind of like a slap in the face like Mizzou had their run, they're done now. That's not how we feel."
Weatherspoon, in particular, feels his team has something to prove. Even personally, the senior is on a mission. He had the option to go the NFL, where he likely would have been a mid-round draft pick after a junior season that landed him on the all-Big 12 team.
"I came back to prove that it just wasn't two years, all of a sudden Mizzou's on the map and two years go by and they're gone. I came back to prove it's not gonna be like that," he said. "No matter all the guys we got drafted, we just want to come back and go out there and show that we can compete and try to keep this thing going. Mizzou had a lot of pride back in the late 70s and the 60s so we're just trying to get it back to that point and keep this thing going."
But proving that point does not happen in the summer. It does not happen in fall practice. The Tigers will get their first chance to prove their point in just more than eight weeks against Illinois in St. Louis.
"We're going to shock a lot of people," Baston said. "I'm saying it now, but there's no talk out on that field. We're just keeping our mouths shut, we're just working hard and fifty-some days from now, we have to show everybody."
Over the next month, leading up to the start of fall camp, PowerMizzou.com will preview the Tigers at every position on the field and examine a number of the questions facing one of the most intriguing seasons in the 120-year history of the Missouri program. To get yourself ready for the 2009 campaign, try out our free seven-day trial.