The list of prominent college football players who will skip their team’s bowl game is lengthening by the day. These future stars want to avoid risk, protect against injury, and be fully healthy in preparation for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The insurance-policy guys include West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, South Carolina receiver-returner Deebo Samuel, LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver.
There’s Stanford running back Bryce Love, Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary, Michigan running back Karan Higdon, and Iowa tight end Noah Fant. There are too many other names to mention.
Please note that the list does NOT include senior Missouri quarterback Drew Lock.
Then again, you already knew that.
Because if you’re a fan of the Missouri Tigers, you know all about Drew Lock. You know that he’s old-fashioned in a way. Loves his state. Loves his university. Loves his coach and teammates.
Of course he’s going to be there — directing the offense, dodging the pass rush, flinging passes and providing leadership when the Tigers close down their successful 2018 season.
On New Year’s Eve, Lock will lead his beloved Tigers into the Liberty Bowl in Memphis to play Oklahoma State. Here we are, approaching Lock’s final game for Missouri.
And it’s all gone by so fast since Sept. 5, 2015 — the day that Lock, the freshman backup to Matty Mauk, threw his first pass for Missouri in a 34-3 win over SEMO.
And while Lock obviously cares about getting ready for the NFL Draft, that can wait. As an unwaveringly loyal Missouri man, Lock cares more about finishing what he started as a freshman in 2015. Even if it means putting himself in a potentially dangerous spot of taking a hit that could cause injury and damage his value in the draft.
Thank you, Drew Lock.
Thank you for everything.
“He is as Mizzou as a guy can be,” MU coach Barry Odom told us earlier this week during an interview on The Bernie Show. “It was never even a thought or discussion for him, whether he was going to play in the bowl game or not. And that speaks volumes about the kind of person he is. I’m so proud of him. And it’s going to be fun to watch his career — for what I think is going to be a long, long time — in the NFL.”
Lock committed to Missouri early, on April 10,2014. So it figures that he would stay late, for one more game, when it would be easy to skip the bowl game and keep his right shoulder, knees and head at a safe distance from the hitting and pounding of the live competition between the Tigers and Cowboys.
But that was unthinkable, really. Let’s go back to the day that Lock let Missouri coach Gary Pinkel know that he wanted to be a Tiger. In one sense it may have been an automatic choice; Lock was a native of Lee Summit (near Kansas City) and his father Andy was a Missouri football alum. But Lock was bombarded by offers from power programs. He had plenty of chances to reconsider and renig. After taking the Michigan job, Coach Jim Harbaugh made a feverish attempt to convince Lock to come to Ann Arbor to be the Wolverines’ quarterback.
Harbaugh couldn’t break the ties that bind.
The Lock family ties.
The loyalty to the state flag.
Destiny was the tale of this young Tiger.
“I don’t feel like I could have played anywhere but Missouri, because that’s where their heart lies,” Lock said after officially signing with Mizzou. “That’s where my heart lies, too.”
Asked if he had any doubts, or second thoughts, Lock said: “I could have gone to other schools, but I don’t feel like the true family, so to say, would be behind me at any other school but Missouri. And I think it’s more of a feeling that my dad actually did walk out onto the field, the same field — not necessarily the same field, because obviously they changed the turf — but walk out in the stadium, and to think that so many years later, I’m going to get the chance to do that, it’s surreal.”
The Liberty Bowl will be Lock’s 50th game for Missouri, and his 46th consecutive start. The beginning was challenging and unfair. After Mauk, the starter, imploded with personal problems, Lock was rushed into the starting job for Mizzou’s fifth game of the 2015 season.
Lock took a beating. The Tigers went 5-7. There was a controversial, race-related campus protest. Mizzou football players threatened to boycott the upcoming game against BYU (but didn’t). Pinkel retired at the end of the season because of health concerns. Odom was hired to succeed Pinkel, and went 4-8 as a rookie head coach in a chaotic 2016.
Six games into the 2017 season, Mizzou was 1-5. At that point Lock was 7-19 as the team’s starter. His attitude and rock-steady competitiveness never fluctuated. But the adversity tested Lock’s confidence.
The turnaround began in the seventh game of the 2017 season. Mizzou won six in a row before losing to Texas in a bowl game played in Texas. Still, for Mizzou, an unexpected winning season (7-6) became a stairway to a higher level of football.
The Tigers are 8-4 this season as they get ready for the Liberty Bowl. They’re No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They blew out No. 13 Florida (38-17) at The Swamp in Gainesville. That was part of a 5-1 closing run to the regular season in which Mizzou outscored opponents 238 to 127.
And while the 8-4 record looks fine, the Tigers suffered agonizing losses to South Carolina and Kentucky — blowing leads, and squandering two wins. Mizzou is two plays away from being 10-2.
But the painful defeats didn’t derail Mizzou’s progress. MU and the quarterback have won 14 of their last 19 games. And Lock has improved along the way.
Here’s a look…
First 26 starts by Drew Lock:
Last 19 starts by Drew Lock:
Lock has been the leading man in Mizzou’s first back-to-back bowl seasons since 2013-2014. And he’s imprinted his name in the SEC record book, ranking second in career passing yards (11,820), third in career touchdown passes (96), fifth in all-time in career completions (860), and fifth in most touchdowns responsible for in a career (106.)
As a junior in 2017, Lock set a single-season SEC record with 44 touchdown passes. And his 3,964 passing yards were the fourth-most in a season by an SEC quarterback.
And Lock deserves credit for enhancing Mizzou’s appeal to recruits, and for strengthening the MU brand. Lock added to Missouri’s outstanding legacy for elite quarterback performance, continuing the work started (in more recent times) by Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin.
The lush history of esteemed QB play certainly was a factor in the decision by Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant to choose Mizzou over Auburn, Mississippi State, Arkansas and North Carolina. And not long after Bryant signed on, Mizzou landed another prominent transfer, former TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson, who has two years of eligibility remaining. After sitting out in 2019 (because of transfer rules) Robinson is in line to be Missouri’s starting QB in 2020.
Odom’s early-signing recruiting class was ranked No. 31 by Rivals, making it the best Mizzou haul since Pinkel’s final class came in at No. 27 in 2015. The SEC, though, is a tough neighborhood.
No doubt, Odom has generated momentum. The Tigers are trending upward. And despite the recruiting successes this year, Mizzou still ranked 13th among the 14 SEC teams in the early signings for 2019.
Of the nation’s Top 20-ranked programs for early-signing recruiting, 10 spots belong to SEC teams. The other four Power 5 conferences — Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 –have only nine teams, combined, in the Top 20. Amazing.
The tenacious Odom can only do one thing: keep working hard.
This league will chew up slackers.
Odom is on a good track.
“When you build it the right way, from the inside out, and build lasting relationships, and you’re all aligned with everyone in the organization, then eventually things will start to turn,” Odom said. “All the work turns into wins. The way the locker room is transformed, the way the coaching staff puts in the schematics on both sides of the ball. All of that stuff is moving in the right direction.
“We’ve got a lot of work left to do. I’m not thinking, by any stretch, that we’ve ‘arrived.’ But I’m excited by what we have done up to this point. And the way we have done it. It hasn’t been easy. But also you can see some light at the end of the tunnel. The way that it’s moving … there’s a lot of really good things going on.”
Drew Lock was a huge part of the turnaround. The change in culture. The change, for the better, in the national perception of Mizzou football.
“It hasn’t been perfect for Drew, especially early on in his career,” Odom said. “He’s grown so much, not just as a quarterback, but as a leader. He’s going to go represent Mizzou in a lot of positive ways for the rest of his life. And he’s proud to do that. He’s done such a remarkable job in our locker room, in leading.
“And, the things that we put on our quarterback, he’s got a lot on his plate. He’s attacked it all, head on, in a great way. And I’m proud of him. He just graduated this past weekend, and he was excited about that.”
Lock will graduate to the NFL soon. Until then, there’s one more game to go. One more game to strengthen the ties that bind.
Thank you, Drew Lock.
Thank you — for all that you’ve done for Mizzou.