As Pete Scantlebury settles in, I’m getting ready to head out the RMN door. So consider this a valedictory series of sorts. I’ve been in Columbia for just over 20 years and just over 20 football seasons. Time to list some of my favorite things from that time. So far we’ve looked at quarterbacks, Faurot Field crowds, tight ends, and road performances.
First of all, this list was more difficult than I anticipated. Missouri has had a lot of sturdy, solid, and sometimes exciting linebackers in its time. I guess most schools have. But to the Jamonte Robinsons and Brock Christophers and Zaviar Goodens and Andrew Gachkars and Dedrick Harringtons and Will Ebners, etc., I will say that you were cool and I thought you’d make the list. It’s my own fault for limiting myself to five spots. (Terez Hall, you’re not on the list yet, but you’re damn close.)
5. Barry Odom (1996-99)
It almost feels like kissing ass to put him on the list now, but Barry Odom was my favorite player on the first couple of Mizzou teams that I had the pleasure of seeing in person. I liked him before I even got here — his high school had beaten up my high school a couple of times back in Oklahoma (the same went for a Mizzou cornerback at the time, Julian Jones), and he had overcome a torn ACL in like three days to make sure he didn’t miss any playing time.
When I actually got to see him, he lived up to every gutty, hard-nosed stereotype you could imagine. And when I saw a No. 39 jersey at the big “everything’s like 95% off” fire sale before the Black & Gold game one year (probably in 1999), I snatched it up. So you could say I liked Odom so much I bought his jersey.
Odom was indeed almost generic in some ways: gritty as hell and tenacious enough to overcome a general lack of athleticism. He hadn’t been able to score an in-state offer from even Oklahoma State (which didn’t have a good team at the time), and the steady stream of injuries slowed him down even further. But there he was, making 362 career tackles over four years; when his career ended in 1999, he had the fourth-most stops in Mizzou history. (He has since fallen to seventh.)
Odom was smart enough that you pretty much knew he’d go on to become a coach. In fact, when his career ended, I proclaimed that he would become an awesome Mizzou head coach one day. Here’s to hoping I’m right. The jury obviously has yet to render a verdict in that one.
4. Andrew Wilson (2010-13)
Gary Pinkel’s Tigers were picked a distant sixth in the East division heading into 2013. They would, of course, finish fourth in the nation, winning the East, leading Auburn in the SEC title game with about 20 minutes left, and eventually finishing 12-2.
We remember all the major players from that squad: James Franklin and Maty Mauk. Henry Josey. Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington, and Marcus Lucas. The crazy-ass offensive line led by Max Copeland. The endless stream of defensive ends (including SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam). E.J. Gaines and Braylon Webb in the back.
But I think we sometimes forget about the absurdly tough linebacking corps that lined up behind those ends. And while Donovan Bonner and Kentrell Brothers played key roles for that unit, Wilson’s toughness had such a massive impact.
The one play I remember most from Wilson came early in the fourth quarter of the 2013 win at Georgia. It was not a particularly consequential play — UGA converted a third-and-1 rush on the way to scoring a touchdown — but it made me yelp all the same. Burly Dawg fullback Quayvon Hicks was sent up the middle to convert and did so, but Wilson met him head on and turned him straight backwards. A favorable spot moved the chains, but if you were wondering about Mizzou’s resolve at that point in a grueling game, you wondered no more.
3. Kentrell Brothers (2012-15)
After 2013, Mizzou lost Wilson, Franklin, Josey, all three of its starting receivers, a few pieces from the offensive line, a couple of those stud ends, Gaines, etc. The Tigers’ 2014 roster was still talented, but it wasn’t nearly as deep as its 2013 counterpart. But if 2013 was a proclamation of strength from Pinkel’s program, 2014 was its proclamation of resolve. The offense had to fight twice as hard for every point but did so, and the defense, quarterbacked by Kentrell Brothers, was clinical.
Brothers’ career got off to a slowish start; another Oklahoman overlooked by the in-state schools, he saw only reserve time as a redshirt freshman, then took consecutive leaps, first into the 2013 starting lineup, then into a leadership role in 2014.
He would get even better in 2015, helping to nearly drive Mizzou to a bowl despite the worst offense of our lifetime. For a team that absolutely had to stop its opponent from scoring on every possession, Brothers recorded 152 combined solo and assisted tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, three pass breakups, and a fumble recovery, and he blocked three kicks to boot.
Brothers’ presence was perhaps defined most in his absence. Mizzou continuously had to replenish the two-deep but still fielded mostly dominant defenses in 2013, 2014, and 2015. It was easy to assume that would continue, but the moment Brothers left, Mizzou’s play dropped dramatically.
2. James Kinney (2000-03)
Fifteen years ago this fall, Missouri ended a 25-year losing streak to Nebraska with a fourth-quarter surge and a 41-24 victory. It was one of the most defining moments in the fandom of basically any Missouri fan over a certain age. And if you remember one player from the game, it’s probably Brad Smith. That’s fine. He threw for 180 yards, rushed for 123, and scored four times, including once on a 47-yard reception. He was unreal.
He was also only the second-best player on the field. The best was playing on the Mizzou defense. James Kinney made eight tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack, and he both recovered one fumble and forced another. I wrote earlier in this series about how the Mizzou home crowd willed that team to victory in that game; well, Kinney was the home crowd personified. He did everything. He would not let Missouri lose that day.
Despite his performance that day, and despite his presence at the top of Mizzou’s all-time tackles list, I fear Kinney gets forgotten sometimes. He didn’t play on any of the great Gary Pinkel squads (he was a senior in 2003), and in the coming years, LBs like Sean Weatherspoon would suck up more oxygen for better teams. But while Larry Smith didn’t leave Pinkel a particularly talented squad, he did leave him Kinney. That’s a solid parting gift in and of itself.
1. Sean Weatherspoon (2006-09)
I almost titled this list “My 5 favorite Mizzou linebackers, beyond the obvious No. 1.” Because it’s obvious.
So very, very obvious.
Mizzou’s favorite two-star, Snuggie-wearing linebacker played only on special teams as a freshman and still nearly topped Kinney atop the all-time career tackles list, finishing just 21 stops behind him in third plays (DeMontie Cross is second). He led Mizzou’s transformed 2007 unit with 130 combined solo and assisted tackles, 9.5 TFLs, three sacks, and eight breakups. And he was only getting started.
In 2008, he became one of only four Tigers to top 150 tackles in a season (Jay Wilson — Andrew’s father — did it in 1982, Travis McDonald did it in 1994, and Brothers did it in 2015), and that didn’t even tell half the story: 18.5 of those stops were behind the line. He also picked off three passes, broke up seven more, and forced two more fumbles. Mizzou’s defense struggled quite a bit in 2008, but the Tigers won 10 games and another Big 12 North title all the same, in part because Spoon was still there making every damn tackle.
Spoon returned for a frustrating 2009 season, and he recorded another 14.5 TFLs for a struggling unit. But really, listing stats misses the point. Sean Weatherspoon was one of the most joyful, insanely likable players to ever wear a Missouri uniform. He graduated nearly a decade ago, and it’s still hard not to grin when you think of his name. The stats got him into the Mizzou hall of fame, but we remember him for everything else.