It’s, “Underdog Week,” here at SB Nation, and when you consider the state of Mizzou Athletics over the years, it’s hard not to think of all the underdog stories that have come out of Columbia. Missouri isn’t what you’d call traditionally great at either of the two revenue sports (though both have had extended runs of success), and neither program is ever expected to make much noise when it comes to major championships or individual awards.
With so many underdog stories deserving to be told, we figured — why not take time to honor the best of the best? We rounded up our team of writers to honor the best Mizzou underdogs of the 21st century (in football, as you’ll notice below).
2-star, 5.0 rating, receiver out of Marlin, TX, is what the recruiting profile read. At 6’3” 185, playing out of a town of 5,000 people caught between Waco and College Station, no one really gave a thought or a notice to the football being played there. But a desperate Missouri staff did notice. And needing to build their receiving corps around this new “spread offense” they were utilizing, they took a flier on a skinny kid who showed some wheels with the ball. That kid, of course, was Danario Alexander, who turned in the greatest receiving performance I have ever seen in a Tiger uniform.
We can wonder about what would have happened if #81 hadn’t had the worst knees in the world, but we did see what he could do for at least one season... and it was incredible. The Tigers didn’t have the Chases (Daniel or Coffman), didn’t have Jeremy Maclin, didn’t have a Moore or Hood or Sulak or even their two coordinators from 2008. But they had Danario, and that was enough.
He might not have won a conference title or an individual award (I’M STILL ANGRY ABOUT THAT), but for one season he was a one-man offense that carried the Tigers to 8-wins.
Not bad for a 2-star prospect. — Nate Edwards
What if I told you there was a one-year high school senior in Billings, Montana, with a dream of playing college football at Missouri? And what if I told you that high school senior was 230 pounds and wanted to play offensive line for a future SEC program? And, oh by the way, he was so under-the-radar that he didn’t have a Rivals profile.
That player was Max Copeland. He arrived at Mizzou as a 230-pound walk-on. He left Mizzou as a two-year starter, including one year as part of what will go down as one of the best offensive lines in the history of Mizzou football (2013). Copeland was a warrior who is best known for his red beard, the blood that seemingly flowed during every game freely from the bridge of his nose and the eye black he painted under his eyes. Very few walk-ons who become multi-year starters at a power-five program. Even fewer are as beloved as Copeland was by his teammates in his time at Mizzou.— Brandon Kiley
Who would’ve thought a fringe three-star recruit out of Kearney High School, who was committed to Navy until Missouri came in with an 11th-hour offer, would become one of the most beloved players the Tigers have produced since the move to the SEC? His offer list was nothing special, but Missouri saw something in Cale Garrett and he delivered. He played in every game possible for four years until his college career-ending pectoral injury last season, which robbed him of what could’ve been an All-American caliber season. His last game was one fans will remember, grabbing two interceptions (one for a touchdown, the other a yard away from being one as well) while playing through a torn pectoral and earning even more respect for his resiliency. Going from an overlooked prospect whose lone Power 5 offer came from his home-state school to one of the best linebackers in the country and a fan favorite for years to come — that’s an underdog story for you. — Ryan Herrera
Is there a more obvious candidate for the Underdog Hall of Fame than Charles Harris? In 2017, he made Rivals list of Top 10 two-star players in the NFL Draft, where analysts noted that they frankly didn’t know much about him. A high school basketball player (oh, you didn’t know he played basketball?) who transitioned to football in his senior year, he became a star with Mizzou, the only school to offer him on National Signing Day. Gary Pinkel’s staff molded him into a fierce pass-rushing weapon, a long, destructive force off the edge who racked up 34.5 TFLs and 18 sacks in three seasons as a Tiger. His career in the NFL hasn’t transpired as Tiger fans would’ve hoped, but Harris fits the mold of underdog almost too perfectly. — Josh Matejka
This could be recency bias but to me, Marcus Murphy always seemed underrated, which makes him an underdog in my mind. Murphy was never the featured back though he did everything for Mizzou— notching seven touchdowns from either punts or kick offs and over 2200 yards from the line of scrimmage in his time as a Tiger.
To demonstrate — Had it not been for that unfortunate missed FG, more people would definitely have talked about this play against South Carolina in 2013, which gave Mizzou an early 7-0 lead. In case you didn’t catch it, that number 7 for SC? That’s future No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, and Murphy shed him on his way to the 11-yard touchdown. How about that? There’s a reason Mizzou fans point to a running back and say, “he reminds me of Marcus Murphy.” Players like him are so important, and you don’t realize it until they’re gone. — Mitch Hill
I was introduced to Saunders in 2003, watching his Kearney Bulldogs win the Class 4 State Championship in St. Louis. The major impression he made on me came only after he scored the first three touchdowns of the game. Warming up his quarterback at halftime, Saunders caught every ball the QB zipped back to him one-handed — each grab clean and effortless. If memory serves, there was some question at the time whether Saunders, a senior, would receive the Mizzou scholarship offer he coveted. The Missouri coaches must not have been as impressed as I was with the show he put on, in the championship game or during warm-ups, because the offer did not come.
But as a Tiger walk-on, Saunders transmuted whatever disappointment he felt into fuel for his legendary workouts (in 2008 he challenged himself to do 100,000 push ups in a year—he did 100,084). Saunders made himself into a crucial contributor on the great 2007 team, where he was a starter out of a stacked receiver corps that included Tiger all-timers Maclin, Alexander, Franklin, Rucker, and Coffman. In that year, Saunders caught 41 balls for 397 yards, followed by a senior campaign in which he snagged 72 for 833. I consider Tommy Saunders to be one of the great underdog stories in Missouri history. — Tim Bussen