As the team filed off the plane and onto buses in Columbia, Mo., they were met by sporadic drops of rain and cool gusts of wind that cut through their Vanderbilt sweatsuits. The temperature hovered right around 50 degrees on Friday afternoon and it isn't expected to get much warmer between now and kickoff at 6 p.m. CT Saturday. Yes, it felt like football weather.
Vanderbilt's football team departed McGugin Center at 10:35 a.m. Friday and was in the air aboard their chartered Delta flight 10 minutes before noon. Flight time was a little more than one hour to Columbia Regional Airport. Upon arrival, the team hopped on buses and headed to the team hotel.
En route, the team got their first look at Faurot Field - from the road - as the buses headed down East Stadium Blvd., passing many of Missouri's athletic facilities. Shortly before 2 p.m., the team was checked into their hotel rooms. The next few hours were spent relaxing and napping before heading to unit and team meetings that dominated much of their evening.
The meeting sessions commenced at 5:05 p.m. and not a minute earlier or later. First it was the offense and defense that met separately and at 5:40 p.m., the team converged in one room to talk special teams.
Immediately following the special teams meeting, cornerback Andre Hal and offensive quality control coach Sam Williams participated in the Friday night "Hotel Share." The night before every game, Coach James Franklin has a player and a coach address the team to talk about part of their personal story and/or provide words of encouragement to the team.
Franklin uses the activity as a way for the team to build trust and grow closer to one another. Hal led off and spoke about "playing with confidence and having the confidence to make big plays."
Williams, who was an administrative assistant with the Commodores a year ago, told the team about the journey he took to become a coach at Vanderbilt.
A graduate of Shepherd University (W. Va.), Williams also spoke about the importance of being confident. His story began five years ago when he successfully begged Monte Cater, the coach at Shepherd to give him a job where he spent four years as an assistant. After four years, he received a call from Franklin stating that there may be an opportunity for him at Vanderbilt.
Well, a spot never became available and Franklin delivered this news to Williams. But even after the phone call, it didn't stop Williams in his pursuit of a Division I job. "I don't take no for an answer," Williams said.
Instead, he began packing.
"I packed up everything I owned and put it in a Honda Accord that was put together by duct tape, staples and Gorilla Glue, and I drove down to Nashville not knowing anybody," Williams said.
No one new Williams was coming and he had no past relationship with any staff members. He walked into McGugin Center and told the staff that he was here to help. And help is what he did, in a volunteer role. His only source of income came from stocking shelves at Kroger from midnight to 8 a.m. four days a week. His determination paid off when he received a full-time job after the 2011 season.
"I made a decision, just like you make a decision everyday to go out on the practice field and give it your all," Williams told the team. "You guys make sacrifices to get what you want and you have to keep grinding."
Following Williams' talk, the video staff queued a motivational video that featured highlights from throughout the season. The video was mixed footage from the scene in "The Dark Knight Rises" where people are trying to climb out of the pit. According to Wes Whaley, the video maven who produced the motivational piece, the scene was to symbolize resiliency.
After the video, Coach Franklin spoke to the team before everyone headed to dinner.
"The game isn't easy and neither is life," Franklin said. "The rest of your life is not going to be easy and that is why this game is the greatest game because it teaches adversity. It teaches adversity every single day on the practice field, it teaches time management and how you balance everything athletically, academically and socially.
"If you think it is hard now, it is going to be hard the rest of your life. That is why I am so excited to watch you guys go out there and have success because you worked for it and you earned it."
Introduction to Missouri
Located in Columbia, Mo., roughly equal distance between Kansas City and St. Louis, the University of Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference from the Big 12 on Nov. 6, 2011. Founded in 1839, Missouri - or Mizzou as it known as - was the first public university west of the Mississippi River. The university has an enrollment of 33,805 and is the northernmost school in the SEC.
The Tigers play at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field where there is a capacity of 71,004. The stadium and many of the school's facilities will soon be renovated as part of a $200 million master plan for facility renovations. The improvements will increase the seating capacity by more than 6,000.
The Tigers are 13-2 at home the last three years, including 2-1 in 2012. The football stadium sits on the south side of campus next to Mizzou Arena (basketball), Hearns Center (volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics) and across the street from Devine Pavilion (indoor football), Taylor Stadium/Simmons Field (baseball), University Field (softball) and Audrey J. Walton Track/Soccer Field/Stadium (soccer and track).
Missouri has played in 29 bowl games, including appearances in each of the last seven seasons under Head Coach Gary Pinkel. The Tigers' football program has produced a number of notable names including Kellen Winslow, Johnny Roland, Justin Smith, Brad Smith and Jeremy Maclin.
The program is also known for being a part of two of the most unbelievable finishes in the history of college football, and both times the Tigers were on the wrong side. They are known simply as the "Fifth Down Game" and "The Kick."
In the "Fifth Down Game" in 1990, Colorado inexplicably received an extra down on its game-winning touchdown drive and would eventually win the national championship that year. You can count the number of downs yourself by clicking here.
"The Kick" came in 1997 against Nebraska. With no time to play and the ball at the 12-yard line, Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost tossed the ball into the end zone where it ricocheted off the hands of the intended receiver and was then kicked up into the air and caught for a touchdown by a diving Matt Davidson. The game would go to overtime with Nebraska winning. The Huskers - of course - would go on to win the national championship.
Missouri has also been to home to many notable individuals. Former Missouri Tigers include:
- Tom Berenger (actor)
- Chris Cooper (actor)
- Jon Hamm (actor)
- Sheryl Crow (singer/songwriter)
- Brad Pitt (actor) Two credits shy of graduating
- Sam Walton (businessman)
- John Anderson (ESPN SportsCenter)
- Russ Mitchell (CBS News)
Friday Five Spot With redshirt freshman wide receiver Josh Grady
What do you like the most about traveling on the road with the team?
Probably the main thing is just getting to see different environments. Being from Florida, I didn't really get out of the state much to see other places much. I really enjoy traveling and experiencing the different atmospheres.
Does traveling on the road help bring the team together?
It definitely brings about bonding time on the bus, the plane and in the hotel. We play games with each other and try to watch movies together. It is definitely good bonding time with each other.
What is your music selection for traveling on the road?
Right now I'm listening to a rapper named J. Cole. There isn't too much cussing, I really don't like any of that. He's a real smooth rapper. It is something that will ease my mind, but not get me too hyped. My favorite song of his right now is called I'm a Fool.
What is the best movie you've recently seen?
One movie Coach Franklin showed us recently was Safe House with Denzel Washington. He had us watch it on the way to Georgia. It was a good movie and I definitely enjoyed it.
Now that you have a few games under your belt at wide receiver, what has been the hardest adjustment to playing a new position in a game?
The first game against South Carolina was the first time I'd ever played a game at wide receiver, so just getting used to the flow, catching the ball in traffic and blocking in a game rather than practice (are the biggest adjustments).