These guys are all from different places and they are people that I truly value. It’s only because of football that I got a chance to meet these guys and be a part of their lives as well.
From 2006 through 2009, Mizzou Football experienced a program renaissance, catapulting onto the national stage with some of the best teams that have ever been assembled in Columbia. Every Saturday, The Zou was rocking with 70,000+ fans, clad in black and gold, watching a Mizzou program that won 38 games over those four seasons. On the east side of the Memorial Stadium, the Tiger’s Lair would lead a variety of different cheers throughout the stadium; the traditional M-I-Z, Z-O-U chant was among the fan favorites. But there was one player who endeared himself to Mizzou fans during those years that he actually earned his own cheer: ‘SPOOOOOOOOOONNNN!’
That player was All-American linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Every time the Jasper, Texas, native made a tackle, the ‘Spoon’ chant echoed through Memorial Stadium. Considering he made 413 career tackles, he became a household name for Mizzou fans as he helped spark a resurgence in Mizzou’s Football program.
“It kind of started back in high school during my senior year playing basketball,” Weatherspoon said. “There was one game, I was having a pretty good game and the crowd kept saying ‘Spooooon.’ I remember my mom was like, ‘They better quit booing my baby! Who do they think they are booing?’
“It just became something that happened and when I got to here, I was eager to get a chance to go out there and get that thing going at Mizzou. Once I got on the field, it worked out. It’s something that is pretty cool and I don’t take it for granted. I’m just thankful that the people here at Mizzou always accepted me for who I was and took to me being out there and being a Tiger.”
The way that Weatherspoon played the game made it easy for Mizzou fans to admire him. A former two-star recruit out of Jasper, Texas – a town today with fewer than 8,000 people – he was overlooked by all of the schools in his home state. The only Texas schools to offer him a spot were Houston and TCU. He was the player of the year in his district, but at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he lacked some of the key measurables that major-college recruiters look for in linebackers. But Mizzou’s coaching staff recognized his raw athleticism and knew that the former three-sport star had tremendous upside. Once he was at Mizzou, he did the thing that he did best: out-work everyone.
With a legendary work ethic in the weight room, he added 35 pounds of muscle to his frame by his sophomore season, his first as an every day starter. He led Mizzou with 130 tackles that year, including 11 in the opener vs. Illinois. That 2007 team was loaded with defensive stars – Lorenzo Williams, Brock Christopher, Stryker Sulak, Pig Brown, William Moore and Brian Smith just to name a few – but it was Weatherspoon’s dynamic personality and contagious smile that quickly elevated him to fan-favorite status.
“I just want to thank Coach Pinkel for always allowing me to be me,” Weatherspoon said. “He never really told me to shut up. I know I talk a lot and some people may not like that, but that’s just who I am. They just fostered an environment where you could be who you were. That was great for me and all of my teammates.”
That environment at Mizzou, which allowed Weatherspoon to truly be himself, led to the All-American linebacker forming life-long friendships with his teammates. Alongside some of the best players and leaders to ever come through Mizzou’s Football program, he drew closer to his teammates through all of their success on the field, and all of the good times off the field. His teammates felt more like brothers, even though he was 13 hours away from his hometown.
It was the relationships that he made with those teammates that still resonate today.
“A lot of guys I can still lean on today and call some of my best friends,” he said. “These guys are all from different places and they are people that I truly value. It’s only because of football that I got a chance to meet these guys and be a part of their lives as well. No disrespect to my buddies back home, but I’m a lot closer to the guys that I spent time with here that supported me when I was far away from home.”
One player in particular – future All-American WR Danario Alexander – became a very close friend of Weatherspoon’s. Their friendship began back when the two were dominating the Texas high school ranks on the track & field circuit.
“Danario is one of my best friends. We actually met a track meet in Texas and we had both signed at Mizzou,” Weatherspoon remembered. “I’m walking through a hotel at Regionals and I thought ‘that dude looks familiar’ because we had just become MySpace friends, back then when MySpace was big. There he is, sitting in the lobby on the computer and he’s checking his MySpace. I was vying to be in his top eight. We just hit it off and talked about beating Texas and what it would be like going out on a dream at Mizzou.”
Turns out, their careers did feel like a dream. Both played in the NFL and both are now in the Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame. Both were All-Americans and players who were vital to the success that catapulted Mizzou into the SEC. Weatherspoon was a Second Team All-American in 2008 and Alexander a First Team All-American in 2009 after leading the nation in receiving yards. One of the main highlights for both was defeating archrival Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium in front of the second-largest crowd ever assembled at the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Mizzou earned the No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings following that win, which clinched the Tigers a Big 12 North title.
“That game, at that point, I had all of these dreams of playing D-1 football,” Weatherspoon said. “I got a chance to come here and I didn’t know how real it was until that game. We are coming into the stadium, it was a night game. You could see the Home Depot sign from the setup for College Gameday. When we started going into the stadium, you see all these people. It was like the Super Bowl. That was my Super Bowl moment. I had a chance to be a part of the Super Bowl with the Falcons and it was nothing compared to that night.
“Looking up and seeing all the black and gold, and then looking over and seeing two other colors. When we came out, the atmosphere there at that stadium, was amazing. To see one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever been around – Lorenzo Williams – sack Todd Reesing and he had the whole Arrowhead Stadium endzone in his helmet. That was the moment right there. That was everything.”
Weatherspoon had a team-high seven tackles and a pass break-up in that game.
That was one of many highlights in Weatherspoon’s career at Mizzou. He was a two-time Second-Team All-American (2008, 2009) and was also a three-time First-Team All-Big 12 selection (2007-09). He earned Second-Team All-American, First-Team All-Big 12 and Butkus Award finalist honors during his senior season in 2009 when he had a team-best 111 total tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a team captain.
After earning his undergraduate degree from Mizzou in Interdisciplinary Studies, Weatherspoon was the No. 19 overall selection by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2010 NFL Draft, becoming the first Tiger linebacker to be a first-round pick and the first Mizzou LB to be drafted since 1984.
His teams won 38 games over four years and his athletic accolades speak for themselves, but when asked to pick a favorite moment at Mizzou, he chose a moment away from football, with his teammates by his side.
“I come up here to Missouri and I don’t think I even own a coat,” Weatherspoon said. “We started to hear about this snow storm coming in, it’s December of ’06. We’re in the dorms and a lot of my buddies on the team, we were like, ‘We’re going to go play in the snow’. I had never experienced snow. When the storm came, we went out to the quad and made our way to the stadium. We had the white board that the coaches used to make halftime adjustments, and we’re sledding down the hill on it! It’s all fun and games until there were three feet of snow on the ground and we’re all holding hands trying to get back to the dorms. Everyone got sick.”
Those are the moments with his teammates that were so instrumental in his development as a football players. The teams that Weatherspoon played on had an incredible bond, forged through football, that led to unparalleled success on the field and even after football was over for many of them.
“The folks here at Missouri made us feel really comfortable. The people here, from the administration on down to the coaches, they really just made us feel like this was the place to be and that it was a family atmosphere. I remember coming on my visit with my parents and on the way back home, deep down I knew that it was a place that could foster the type of environment I need to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.”
And for a small-town, two-start recruit from Texas, all of the things that he and his teammates accomplished give him the proud distinction of being #MizzouMade.
The folks here at Missouri made us feel really comfortable. The people here, from the administration on down to the coaches, they really just made us feel like this was the place to be and that it was a family atmosphere.
What does it mean to be #MizzouMade? That moniker has been a staple for Mizzou student-athletes for years. It is often associated with athletes who have excelled at the highest levels of their respective sports, but the true meaning runs much deeper.
While there are certainly examples of former Tigers excelling in professional athletics, there is a much larger contingent of Mizzou student-athletes thriving in today’s fast-paced, competitive work environment. What each of those student-athletes learned at Mizzou has prepared them for life beyond sports.
The mission of Mizzou Athletics remains to prepare champions for life through a personal enhancement model that emphasizes academic and athletic excellence, social responsibility, career development and leadership in order to help each student athlete become a prepared professional in any field upon earning their degree.
#MizzouMade Monday aims to tell those stories of student athletes who are bringing those values and ideals of Mizzou into the real world every day.