Ever wondered what a Mizzou team that was comprised of only Missouri kids would look like? Or wonder how good an only-Texan Mizzou squad would do? Well, you’re in luck! This offseason, the Rock M Masthead is assembling the best team of Mizzou players by state that they graduated high school from. We compiled a list of the significant starters on every team from the year 2000 on and voted on the best players at their position group in order to create three “All-State” Mizzou squads: Team Missouri, Team Texas, and Team USA. Over the next nine weeks you’ll read about these Mizzou Greats that hailed from the respective regions and, hopefully, come away impressed with just how good these fictional teams could actually be.
Easily the toughest vote of the series so far, “D-line Zou” has plenty of arguments for a wide variety of players over the past twenty years. Here’s how we at Rock M Nation saw it.
How does one define the, “peak,” of an athlete’s career? Is it his most successful statistical season? Is it a championship? A single play?
In the case of Shane Ray, our masthead’s choice for Team USA defensive lineman, there’s an argument to be made that the lattermost option applies to his three-year career as a Missouri Tiger. At the very most, Ray’s unforgettable scoop-and-score to cap the 2013 season marked the beginning of an unmatchable dominant peak that would last through the end of his junior season.
It should be noted that while Shane Ray is often considered a local product, his inclusion in the “Team USA” group shouldn’t be considered category fraud... even if it immensely helped his chances in this vote. His name sticks out like a sore thumb among the other Team USA nominees, a one-man wrecking crew in a sea of competent and skilled maulers like Josh Augusta or Terry Beckner Jr.
Ray was, very simply, cut from a different cloth. Clocking in at 245 pounds from the edge, Ray used his scary athleticism and strong upper body to help Mizzou become one of the most feared defensive fronts in college football. In his true sophomore season, Ray broke out as much as possible behind Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam and future NFL champion Kony Ealy. He notched nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles before collecting the score that cemented Missouri’s second Cotton Bowl title in seven seasons.
Ray’s junior year, however, is what earned him the spot on this list. Ray was an unholy terror in Missouri’s 11-2 campaign, setting the school’s single-season sack record with 14.5 while piling on 8.5 more tackles for loss and three forced fumbles for good measure. He became Mizzou’s second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year (no Co- this time) and a consensus All-American before beginning his professional career as the Denver Broncos’ first round pick.
Ray’s few years at Mizzou came toward the end of Gary Pinkel’s tenure, when the Tigers were defined less by their high-flying offenses and more by their nasty defenses with tenacious lines. Ray was the pinnacle of that nastiness, a strong, fast burst of force that few linemen in the SEC could stop.
To be honest, he’s an easy choice when stacked up against his fellow Team USA peers. But even amongst his D-Line Zou era teammates, he may still be the best of the best. Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Markus Golden, Charles Harris... few (if any) of them could match Ray’s unrelenting dominance over the course of a single season.