Gary Pinkel sat down with the voice of Mizzou Tigers, Mike Kelly, at Buffalo Wild Wings for the last time on Monday November 30, 2015 in Columbia, Missouri for Tiger Talk.
The 2015 Mizzou Football Seniors reflect back on their time at Mizzou.
Head Football Coach Gary Pinkel held a press conference at Mizzou Arena on Monday, November 16, 2015 to discuss his recent decision to retire from coaching at the end of this season. Friends, family and fans all gathered to support Coach Pinkel and hear more about his health, his decision to retire and the remainder of the 2015 season.
“The most important things is my players at Toledo and here at Mizzou,” Pinkel said during the press conference. “I’m going to miss interacting with them, scolding them and hugging them.”
Pinkel announced on Friday afternoon his intention to retire at the end of the season due to health reasons, shortly before his Tigers responded with an emotional 20-16 win Saturday evening over BYU in Kansas City.
“I’m so proud of them for competing like they did after being told the night before,” Pinkel said.
He will step aside as Mizzou’s winningest coach in program history, with a current win total of 118 as his Tigers will close out the 2015 home season with a Senior Night game against Tennessee at 6:15 p.m. in The ZOU.
Made’ is a phrase that has come to define a lifestyle for everyone who has been through Head Coach Gary Pinkel‘s program at Mizzou. There are plenty of examples of young men who have come to epitomize this culture, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Lineman Jacquies Smith.
After signing as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins following his senior season at Mizzou, Smith bounced around to three NFL practice teams and even signed with the Canadian Football League in 2012. With the principles instilled in him through Mizzou Football, he continued to grind and work hard. That hard work earned him a spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September of 2014 after being claimed off waivers. Smith excelled in 2014, earning eight starts and playing in 15 games in which he tallied 6.5 sacks and forced a fumble.
Smith’s success has not halted in 2015, as he currently ranks 13th in the NFL in sacks with five on the season. He has also recorded three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for 12 yards in 2015.
Director of Athletic Performance Pat Ivey and Director of Event Management Tony Wirkus sat down with the voice of Mizzou Tigers, Mike Kelly, at Buffalo Wild Wings on Monday, November 2 in Columbia, Missouri for Tiger Talk.
It all started in the winter of 2014 as a conversation over tattoos led to a unique friendship between a pair of people who have overcome incredible adversity in their lives.
As #MizzouMade wide receiver L’Damian Washington was training for the 2014 NFL Draft in Pensacola, Fla., the presence of a large, tattooed man going through a rigorous rehabilitation workout caught his attention. Washington struck a conversation with the man and immediately there was a connection, a connection molded by the heartbreaking hardships that each man had endured.
But it wasn’t until Washington offered the man a ride home that he truly learned who this man was – Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of the failed Operation Red Wing and the central figure behind the New York Times bestseller and major motion picture Lone Survivor.
“I was asking him about his tattoos and he told me the stories that they tell and represent and we picked up conversation,” Washington said. “I wound up giving him a ride home.”
“I got jammed up and I couldn’t get home and we live right by each other. So I asked him for a ride and that was it,” Luttrell said. “After that, I’d find him in there after workouts and we’d hang out and have conversations about life.”
During their ride home that evening in Pensacola, Washington told his story of overcoming the tragic death of both his parents. His father was shot and killed when he was five and his mother passed away 10 years later. That left him homeless and tasked with raising his brothers in Shreveport, La., while trying to earn a Division I football scholarship. Washington’s incredible story of perseverance and resolve led to him earning his degree from Mizzou while helping the team to a 12-2 season in 2013. It also led to the respect of Luttrell, who shared with L’Damian his stories of survival, specifically the story of which Lone Survivor is based when Luttrell survived a failed counter-insurgent, four-man mission to eliminate Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. After that ride, the two were forever bonded together. That bond led Luttrell to Mizzou last Wednesday.
Repaying a Favor
Football is often compared to war and combat. While no one pretends that football players endure the suffering and hardship that soldiers do while protecting our country, both foster and incredible sense of brotherhood. Washington, who was ‘owed a favor’ by Luttrell, asked him to repay that favor and talk to the 2015 Mizzou Football team about that sense of brotherhood he had as a member of the Navy SEALS.
“I was surprised,” senior LB Clarence Green said when he found out Luttrell would be speaking to the team. “He was a great guy, great motivator and an inspiring speaker, so when I saw him in the room I was like: ‘wow he’s really in this room at Mizzou.'”
With every member of the Mizzou Football team, coaching staff and support staff packed into the Onoforio Room, Luttrell met with the Mizzou Football team last Wednesday.
“I try and tell them that look: ‘there is nothing I can tell you that you haven’t already heard. You’ve been playing this game and you’re going to hear every quip and anything to get you fired up.’ What I can do is put a perspective on how far you can take being a team and that’s life or death,” Luttrell said.
Brotherhood was a common theme for Luttrell in the 25 minutes that he spoke with the team. He related the sense of brotherhood that he felt with his peers in the SEALS to the football field.
“The only thing that matters is your ability to stand right here beside me. That’s the truest form of life. Nothing else matters. That’s why I talked to them today,” Luttrell said. “You walk through hell with somebody long enough man, you can’t pull them apart … You throw that jersey on and that helmet comes on, that individuality is gone. You have now blessed everyone on the team with what you got. That’s your part.”
The message of brotherhood resonated with the entire team, especially for Green, a senior LB on one of the nation’s most elite defenses.
“I was just hearing all the adversity that he was talking about that when things hit the fan in the Navy, you have to look at your partner to your left and look at him to the right like ‘come on, get your head up’ and that’s what we needed to hear,” Green said. “Sometimes you have to apply it to football. We need to look at each other and say ‘let’s get it up and go back to the Mizzou way.'”
The message was not lost on the younger Mizzou players either, especially for freshman Cam Hilton, who sought Luttrell for a picture and words of encouragement following his speech.
“It makes you realize that we’re all we have,” Hilton said. “The person next to you; that’s your brother so do what you have to do for them. Don’t do it for yourself, do it for your brother.”
For nearly half an hour, Luttrell’s stories of perseverance and brotherhood inspired Mizzou Football. And while not one player in the room could directly relate to some of the suffering that Luttrell had been through, each was undoubtedly touched by his message.
“When I talk to them, I try and tell them that this isn’t going to be built overnight,” Luttrell said. “All you guys have great skill sets but you come from all over the country. You can’t pay people enough money to be a team. That’s not how that works. It’s out there on the gridiron. The beauty of playing Division I athletics is that it gives you a great perspective on life. You learn to deal with everybody. You learn to deal with hard problems and pain. The only thing that matters is your ability to stand right here beside me. That’s the truest form of life. Nothing else matters. That’s why I talk to them.”
On June 11, 2013 Redshirt Sophomore Anthony Sherrils almost saw the end of his career as a Mizzou Football Safety. While hitching a ride to class from a friend, Sherrils found himself being thrown into the car’s window as it was broadsided in traffic. He had to be removed from the vehicle and rushed to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury due to bleeding in the right side of his brain.
“In high school I did a research paper on concussions, so I knew a little bit about concussions and how traumatic they could be,” Sherrils said. “When they said I had a traumatic brain injury, I was like ‘wow.'”
The head injury left Sherrils with the inability to use the left side of his body, causing him to have to relearn how to do almost everything, even walk. As he began to progress through rehabilitation, he started to see his future as a student-athlete at Mizzou reappear.
“Everyday I was making steps in progress,” Sherrils said. “I was like, ‘Okay, maybe football can be an option.'”
He continued to improve and work toward his goal of making it back onto Faurot Field and within just a month and a half of the accident, Sherrils was running and lifting weights again. He astonished his doctors with the speed of his recovery.
Sherrils returned to the field for the 2014 season, playing in 14 games and recording 13 tackles. He earned a starting position for 2015 and has already recorded 44 tackles and an interception throughout the first eight games of the season.
#MizzouMade Entrepreneur Tommy Saunders is competing on Jillian Michaels’ new Spike TV program Sweat Inc. Michaels’ show focuses on finding the next big exercise program by bringing in fitness entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas and compete against one another for a $100,000 prize. Saunders entered the competition with a program that uses two fitness products of his own: Rock360 and Omniballs.
Saunders walked onto the Mizzou Football team in 2004 as a redshirt freshman wide receiver after graduating from Kearney High School in Kearney, Missouri. Prior to the 2005 season, Saunders earned a scholarship position on the team. During the spring of 2006, he was voted Team Most Improved Wide Receiver. In 2007, after a season that included a career-high 41 catches for 397 yards, he was awarded the Team Rigman Outstanding Underclassman Leadership Award. His teammates voted him team captain in 2008 along with Chase Daniel, Ziggy Hood and William Moore.
Saunders’ recent success in the fitness industry is no surprise. During his time at Mizzou, Saunders set the goal for himself to complete 100,000 pushups in the 2006 calendar year. Not only did he meet his goal, he exceeded it, stopping at 100,084 to pay tribute to his jersey number, number 84.
Saunders currently resides in Kansas City. Sweat Inc. airs on Spike TV on Tuesday nights at 9:00 p.m. CT.