Keeping college kids happy is difficult. They always want something more than what they have, and they are willing to make drastic and sometimes head-scratching moves to get to where they want to be.
Collegiate football players are no different. As the 2010s came around, the landscape of college football began to change. No longer would players be willing to wait for their turn to get their desired playing time on a team. They would instead merely transfer to another program, potentially sit out for a season, and attempt to get a fresh start that would benefit them more.
This trend continued for a while, as power slowly but surely shifted from the NCAA and the coaches to the players themselves. Then, the NCAA introduced the transfer portal in 2018, a formal platform for athletes to enter and find other schools that would take their talents. This streamlined the transfer process and set guidelines for how to go about moving from one school to another to play football.
Then, just this season, the NCAA began to allow any player to transfer to a school without having to sit out a season for one time. Thus, “free agency” had essentially made its way to the collegiate ranks. Players are now hopping around from team to team like they are window shopping, and many debate whether this helps or harms the sport as a whole.
With all of these changes having taken place in recent years, it is rare to see a player stick it out with a team, waiting behind a proven star until they get their shot. Missouri running back Tyler Badie can certainly be classified as a part of that select minority.
The Memphis native was a largely unheralded recruit coming out of high school, rated as a 3-star prospect by most major recruiting services. Badie always wanted to be a Tiger apparently, because he flipped from Memphis to Missouri late in his recruitment.
Tyler Badie came to Mizzou known as an all-purpose back that could be a threat on the ground and through the air, and he was utilized as such in his first couple of seasons. He was not big enough to run between the tackles and take a ton of hits in the SEC, but he would finish his freshman through junior seasons with nearly as many receiving yards as he had rushing. Badie even dabbled in the return game, proving to be a a dynamic threat in the open field.
For three years, he stuck to his role. Badie played third-string behind Larry Rountree and Damarea Crockett as a freshman, and was second fiddle to Rountree for the two years after until the bulldozing back went off to play for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Tyler Badie was never the “star” in the backfield, but he made the most out of every one of his opportunities. He had over 800 yards from scrimmage while behind Rountree and Crockett as a freshman and was always the lightning to Rountree’s thunder when he backed him up.
Still, it had to be tough at times to sit there and know that he could be starting and potentially starring at other schools, especially when Rountree was a proven back that would be there until Badie eventually became a senior. As previously referenced, college kids generally do not have that sort of patience.
The difference: Badie’s maturity.
“Your time will come,” Badie says of his time spent waiting behind others. “I tell all the younger guys, your time might not be now, but it will come.”
In the way he speaks and leads this team, you can tell that he has always had the confidence in himself to be one of the premier running backs in the country, even when he was sitting third on the depth chart in 2018.
Obviously, we can now see that Badie’s confidence was well-founded. He ranks 8th in the nation in rushing with 675 yards, is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and already has 12 total touchdowns to his name through just six games. To do the simple math, that makes him on pace for over 1,300 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, with that not even mentioning that he will likely break his personal-best for receiving yards (356) in a season as well.
When you watch the 2021 Missouri Tigers, you can clearly see that Badie makes this offense go. When he gets the ball in his hands, everybody holds their breath, and opposing defenses are keyed in to where he is at on every play.
“Being the bellcow is a bit different,” Badie says. He’s smiling. “I get tired a lot more now, but it all comes down to stretching and managing my body.”
Many believe him to be one of (if not THE) top backs in the SEC, and he is making a great claim for the Paul Hornung Award for the nation’s most versatile player. He was named to the watch list for that, along with the Wuerrfel Trophy for Community Service, before the season began.
Many other award-winning running backs followed a similar path in their college days. Melvin Gordon had to wait behind the likes of Montee Ball and James White (legends in their own right) for two years before he was able to explode for over 4,100 yard in two seasons and become a first round draft pick.
Najee Harris of Alabama was one of the top recruits in the country in his class of 2017, but even he had to bide his time behind guys like Josh Jacobs, Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris.
Clearly, things turned out alright for those two, as both now find themselves starting in the NFL with Denver and Pittsburgh respectively.
Even one of Mizzou’s best running backs in their storied football history, Ish Witter, followed a similar path. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy stole the show while he was a freshman, then Damarea Crockett made a push as the top back until Witter really took over in 2017. Now, he ranks at tenth in rushing yards all-time at the Mizzou even as he battled against plenty of other big names for playing time throughout his career.
The common theme between all of these guys: making the most of their opportunities. Badie, Gordon, Harris and Witter all put up numbers even when they were buried on the depth chart, and through doing so, their coaching staffs knew that they deserved a shot to be “the guy” at some point in their careers.
So, amidst the transfer portal chaos of people like Tate Martell going to three schools in as many years and not finding success at any of them, Badie has proven that patience is still a beneficial virtue.
Before the season, many analysts pegged Badie as a likely undrafted free-agent when the draft came around. Since game one, his stock has only skyrocketed. Now, he is viewed as a near-lock to be a top 100 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft thanks to his versatility and now-proven stability, and he will leave Columbia as a legend for what he has done both on and off the field.
For now, Badie is focused on the simple things: winning football games and running hard. He just ran for a career-high in yards (217) against North Texas, and as SEC play heats up, more and more people will learn his name outside of the state of Missouri.
If he had made a different choice when he was behind Rountree and Crockett back in 2018, knowing he likely would not be RB1 until his senior season, things would likely be a lot different. He may have exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, became a star at Arkansas, Ole Miss, Memphis, or anywhere else, and then left for the NFL early. That is what the transfer portal is all about, the “what ifs.”
Badie chose not to play that game, and it appears that both he and Mizzou came out the better for it. Patience is a fruitful venture indeed.