Maybe this is a reach for the sake of the lede, but it feels like the 2010s were a decade defined by the individual athlete.
With the rise of social media, individual players have been able to build their brands to new heights. They have their own hashtags, shoe lines and memes. In the NBA, the country’s quickest growing professional sports league, stars are the axis of rooting interest.
College sports, despite the NCAA’s best efforts, are also trending in this direction. Yes, we still largely think of players largely in relation to their schools, but amateurism can’t hold forever. Moreso than ever, we started dissecting whole rosters to find our favorite players. We had internet forums to point out, “actually, the left tackle makes the quarterback look way better than he actually is.”
To kick off our 2010s at Mizzou series, our staff discussed who the best Mizzou Tigers of the 2010s were. We looked at this in two ways. First, and most obvious, was individual success. If you dominated your sport in any way, you were up for consideration. Second, and in some instances most important, was the way these young men and women implanted themselves in our brains. Maybe some of them didn’t have the most on-field prowess, but if they stood out as defining leaders or players of an era, they were discussed too.
Later this week, we’ll list out 40 players from A to Z who we thought were worthy of remembering. Tomorrow, we’ll list out the Top Five Mizzou Athletes of the Decade. Today, we’re launching this thing by looking at athletes 10 through six on our Top Tigers of the Decade list.
10. Markus Golden
A True Son in every sense of the word, Markus Golden carried the torch for “D-Line Zou” in his time at Mizzou. Golden never considered playing elsewhere, because he never wanted to play anywhere but Columbia. He was a record-setting running back at Affton High School in St. Louis, but he had to take a detour at Hutchison Community College to fulfill his life’s goal of playing football for the Tigers. And when that dream became a reality, Golden took full advantage.
Overlooked at every step of the process, Golden proved his doubters wrong time and time again. He racked up 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a backup in 2013 before ultimately pairing with Shane Ray in 2014 to complete the most fearsome defensive end duo in the country. And the production didn’t stop there. Despite being called a “plodding athlete” by an anonymous scout during the pre-draft process, Golden has totaled 28 sacks in 60 career games in the NFL.
Golden will go forever be a Mizzou fan-favorite for his relentless motor, his enduring love for the University of Missouri, and his infectious personality that injected life into any room he ever walked into. — Brandon Kiley
9. Drew Lock
When Drew Lock committed to Mizzou in April 2014, Chase Daniel 2.0 was the expectation. Maybe it’s because Daniel’s greatness was so fresh in our memories. Maybe it’s because Trent Dilfer had already deemed him a future NFL quarterback. Maybe the physical bonafides — 6’5” with multi-sport athleticism and the Bama Boy locks — were just too enticing. Or maybe it’s because we’re all suckers who wanted to see a Mizzou legacy take the program to new heights like Daniel did before him.
Due to a host of circumstances (both inside and outside his control), Drew Lock never turned into Chase Daniel. But when he was on his game, it felt like anything was possible for Missouri football. Every time he hurled his signature deep ball, your breathe suspended. Every time he squeezed the pigskin into an impossible coverage, you couldn’t help but laugh... out of relief or exuberance, only you can decide. More than any individual successes of his own, Drew Lock represented promise; the promise that special things can happen at Mizzou, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. — Josh Matejka
8. Shane Ray
Shane Ray is known for a couple things: a member of the greatest defensive end combo in Missouri history in 2013. One of the two members of the “GoldenRay” terror of 2014. The single season sack record holder at Missouri. SEC defensive player of the year. First Round NFL Draft pick. Any of those would be an excellent thing to remember him by, and any one of those things would endear him to Mizzou fans for eternity. And he was all of them.
The young man from Kansas City, Missouri — as he will inform anyone, politely, yet firmly — came to Columbia after an odyssey of a life journey as a young man finding himself in high school. When he first stepped on campus, there was speculation on whether he would fit in at end or if he’d have to play outside linebacker. But he committed to his conditioning and developed his pass rushing skills under Craig Kuligowski, and carried the proud banner of D-Line Zou to massive success. — Nate Edwards
7. Henry Josey
How did he learn to walk again? How could he possibly have been able to run again? How did he not only return to form but get better? Henry Josey had one of the most traumatic and devastating leg injuries you can possibly suffer on the football field, the legendary “one-in-a-million” descriptor from Dr. Pat Smith. If he had given up hope of playing again, we all would have sympathized and understood. If he had come back to play but not find a way to play consistently or just not have that same spark, we would have been saddened but certainly would not have been surprised.
What happened instead? Josey returned in 2013 and nearly matched his yardage total that he put up in 2011. He nearly doubled his touchdowns. He trampled over Murray State, ran roughshod over Florida, sparked the win over Johnny and A&M, and ripped explosive gains against Auburn in the SEC championship game. Henry Josey embodied everything that Missouri football prides itself on, and was the most determined, tenacious, and gifted athlete to ever represent the football Tigers. — Nate Edwards
6. L’Damian Washington
How is it that a three-star recruit (or two-star, depending on the recruiting site you consult) can make a list that includes the top Tigers of the past decade? Grit. L’Damian Washington showed it throughout his time in Columbia, and he’s continued to show it throughout a professional career that now sees him on the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks roster. Fans loved Washington when he was at Missouri, and he rewarded them by hauling in 100 passes for 1,735 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Losing both of his parents before he was old enough to drive could have been an excuse, but Washington instead used it to further his drive for a career playing the game he loves. His numbers aren’t the most eye-popping numbers a Missouri receiver has ever produced, but he worked tirelessly to turn himself into the player his teammates voted a team captain his senior year. His 15 TD receptions rank 10th in Tiger history, and a couple of them are among the fondest memories fans have of Missouri’s first few years in the SEC. Once again, grit is what has Washington still playing football today, and grit is what gets Washington on this list. — Ryan Herrera