Twenty-one seniors will take a hug from Gary Pinkel, jog onto the field, and hug family members early tomorrow afternoon. They are the leaders of a team that probably shouldn't be where it is right now. They are two transfers, nine walk-ons, 10 three-star recruits and almost entirely fifth-year seniors.
They waited their turn.
Markus Golden bided his time at junior college and moved from running back to linebacker to outright stud defensive end. This dominant Missouri defense is built around his personality and leadership. My favorite Golden moment ever happened just last week, when he recovered a third-quarter fumble and sprinted over to hand it to Dave Steckel. Never before have I seen someone play such mean, rugged football with such joy.
Marcus Murphy waited behind Henry Josey, Kendial Lawrence, and De'Vion Moore and became an incredible contributor on special teams. In his senior season, he has scored touchdowns via run, reception, punt return, and kick return. When Missouri needed someone else to catch passes in 2014, he answered the call and agreed to move to slot receiver before others' injuries moved him back to RB.
Bud Sasser caught three passes as a redshirt freshman, then 10 as a sophomore, then 26 as a junior. With every starter missing from the 2013 season, he was asked to move up a few weight classes and serve as Mizzou's go-to guy. He has 56 catches and nine touchdowns.
Mitch Morse, a skill position player who got too big for skill positions in high school, played virtually every position on the line before starting at right tackle for a 12-win team, then moving to left tackle for a nine-win (and counting) team. Matt Hoch moved from tight end to offensive line to defensive end to starting defensive tackle. He has played the best ball of his career in November.
Lucas Vincent showed blasts of potential and personality from the moment he showed up on campus. A reserve and role-player for most of his career, he has become an integral cog in a deep set of defensive tackles; he played one of the best games of his career last week against Tennessee.
Jimmie Hunt, the only four-star recruit in this batch who signed with Missouri out of high school, caught a pass here and there, learned to thrive as a blocker for the 2013 team, battled injuries as a senior, and enters Senior Day coming off of his best game ever. Darius White, the other four-star of the class, couldn't find a spot at Texas, transferred, got lost in the shuffle at receiver in 2013, and battled injuries for much of his senior season. He caught a huge touchdown pass against Texas A&M two weeks ago.
Duron Singleton took the JUCO route and showed up in Columbia in 2013 ready to make a difference. Only, he battled injuries and barely saw the field. With only one season left to make a name for himself, he has become one of the league's best nickel backs.
Darvin Ruise bounced from spot to spot in the linebacking corps and couldn't quite land a full-time starting gig. He has maximized the snaps he has received in 2014 and, in his home state, scored on a pick six against Florida.
Stephen Carberry walked on, bided his time, and landed a scholarship his senior year. Gavin Otte was a reserve at Central Missouri who decided to pursue his dream of playing for Mizzou and caught a pass against South Carolina.
And of course, we finish with Braylon Webb. Webb wasn't even the most highly touted member of his own family in the 2010 recruiting class. His cousin, Tristen Holt, was one of the most highly touted Texas players Missouri had signed. But while Holt didn't work out, Webb was starting by the end of his redshirt freshman season. He has started ever since. He is the brains of the operation. I'm not sure Gary Pinkel has ever called a player "so smart" so many times. He's never in the wrong place, he makes sure no one else is either. He sniffed out Texas A&M's late fourth-and-one pass immediately two weeks ago. (Also in on the play: Matt Hoch and Markus Golden.) He has recorded tackles for loss, interceptions, break-ups, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries. He is one of the least appreciated, most important players of Gary Pinkel's head coaching tenure.
This senior class is Gary Pinkel's recruiting id. Stars are great, but Pinkel has built Mizzou's program on five-year guys who will grind, work, lead, and take advantage of the opportunities they get. This Missouri team was supposed to take a huge tumble after losing so much from its 2013 squad. And when the Tigers lost to Indiana in September, they were almost completely forgotten. But with this senior class leading the way, they simply kept trying to grind, work, lead, and take advantage of the opportunities they got. Two months later, they are on the doorstep of another SEC East title. And if they win it, it's a safe bet that members of this senior class made plays that made the difference.
On Thanksgiving, I thank these 21 players. They are legacy builders. Nothing was given to them, and nothing came easy, but Missouri has won a hell of a lot of football games with them on the field.