There are certain things you never forget about being a Tiger.
As a former walk-on, I’ll never forget the day I received the email saying that I was going to be part of the team. Months of emailing the Director of Recruiting back and forth, expressing my interest and excitement over the opportunity, sending film, advocating for myself — it all came down to that single moment.
There are certain things you never forget about a situation like that: being invited to a practice like a real recruit, getting a tour of the facility and locker room, and even meeting former players like former wide receiver Brad Ekwurekwu, who since that very day is someone I consider a great mentor of mine. I wasn’t the fastest kid, nor the biggest. I didn’t have the big school offers. I knew for a split second I could look the part of a Division I football player, but when I saw those guys fly around at that practice, it was my first realization that these guys were not only bigger, faster, and stronger, but that these guys and this program are the real deal.
Specifically, I remember #13 Pig Brown, a ball hawk! I remember his speed, his instincts to the football, the way he spoke, the way the players around him respected him on both sides of the ball, and more importantly, the passion behind it.
I also remember the very moment against Iowa State back in October 2007 when he ruptured his achilles.
In what was shaping up to be a magical season, not just for the team, but for him specifically... for a moment it was like the world stood still. We had no idea the extent to which he had injured himself, but The Zou got eerily silent. You could feel an unfamiliar chill down your spine.
Twelve years later, Mizzou Nation is feeling that same chill with the loss of Cale Garrett for the season. With more than half the season left to go, someone like Cale — like Pig, arguably the heart and soul of this team — is forced to be sidelined the rest of the year.
So where do the Tigers go from here? How do the Tigers band together and step up to fill the void left by Garrett’s absence? For a guy like that, you owe it to the success you had with him to succeed without him.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Cale Garrett isn’t going anywhere. Just because he’s not strapped up on Saturdays doesn’t mean he won’t be present in meetings, in the locker room, on the sidelines, or even in the players’ ears away from the facility.
For a walk-on kid such as myself, to be welcomed into a program that went #1 in the nation, and still be taken in with respect and kindness from Pig Brown spoke to why he was the heart and soul of that 2007 team.
I don’t know Cale Garrett personally. I know that before he was offered a scholarship at Mizzou, they said he was too small and was missing some of the intangibles. I know it came close to signing time for him coming out of high school, and Mizzou had offered another linebacker that final scholarship. I know his high school coach, because he used to coach me back as a freshman in high school, and that he advocated for Cale a great deal. I’m unsure as to the details of what went down, but I know it came down to the wire, and Mizzou almost lost the chance to sign Cale Garrett.
The intensity we see on the field, the way he picks up his teammates, the hard work and attitude we see during his interviews, the smile, and the way he has the ability to make you love watching Mizzou football — it’s just like Pig. I remember the chip on our shoulder we had that season, even before Pig’s injury.
This season differs in the sense that we don’t know the extent to which the NCAA sanctions will allow us to participate. But you can’t deny that this season is shaping up to be special. Offensively, and especially defensively, the Tigers seem to be playing into that chip on their shoulder as they re-enter conference play this Saturday.
I remember nearly being brought to tears when Pig got back to the sideline. I saw him hopping around in pain. I thought it was bad high ankle sprain and he would be okay. I remember the tears in his eyes when he put a towel over his head and shouted out more in disappointment than in pain. He wanted to be there, be a part of the journey. A guy, just like Cale, with tons of NFL promise, reduced to tears. I remember visiting him in the hospital the next day, if not that night after his surgery (ironically, from what I hear, they used parts of an actual pig to fuse his achilles back together).
I’ll never forget our conversation when I walked in that room and we got the chance to talk. He said, “What up, TD!” like he normally would, like he had just woken up from a regular nap and was watching TV. “Man, I’m straight! Y’all just go out there and win for me, man”. Selfless, focused and goal-oriented— even from his hospital bed. That was Pig.
That’s what this team gets from Cale Garrett. Ironically, we beat Ole Miss that season. We also beat Arkansas quite profusely. Now being in the SEC, the Tigers have the opportunity to do it again.
For us in 2007, we were set back. For this team, the cards were stacked against them prior to the season starting. Is this not the story of Mizzou? Constantly picked middle to last in conference standings, never really given a shot by the critics, and so many in Mizzou Nation ready to throw in the towel because of one loss.
As players and coaches, we weren’t ready for that to be the case. Coach Odom was part of that coaching staff back in 2007, as the Director of Football Operations, so this situation is familiar. With this being a new season, new team, new conference, and a new opportunity to return Mizzou Football back to dominance, the key thing Mizzou Nation needs to understand is that Garrett’s absence does not mean the absence of Mizzou Football, nor the absence of Garrett. Garrett’s focus, much like Pig’s back in 2007, is still winning football games. That requires a total buy-in to the mission that was started when Garrett was on the field. It’s the same mission, regardless of any adversity this team has or could still face.
Mizzou Football is used to being set back, but one cannot deny that even if it took a few weeks, a few seasons, or a multitude of changes to get there, this football program has always bounced back. Many want to point to things such as losing seasons, losing to poor teams — that’s not the point. Mizzou Football could in fact be back to where we hoped and knew they could be after 2007.
Whether that includes Cale Garrett in pads or as an extension of the coaching staff, the heart and soul of this team is still present because of what he’s done. That doesn’t just go away just because of an injury.