This year’s Missouri Tigers football team is full of question marks. How will Blaine Gabbert do in his first year as a starter? Can the defense rebound from a disappointing 2008 campaign? Do the Tigers have a true number one receiver in Danario Alexander? What changes will occur after losing both Dave Christensen and Matt Eberflus?
However, amid all the questions and speculation, Missouri fans can count on at least one truth heading into the season: The Tigers have one of the best linebackers in the nation. But just how good is Sean Weatherspoon?
His list of accomplishments is long. Among them are 2007 All Big 12 honors, 2008 All-American honors, 2009 preseason All-American honors, and the chance to leave Missouri as the school’s all time leading tackler. After racking up a team-leading 155 tackles in 2008 one might think Weatherspoon would want to keep himself as exactly as he was a season ago. But Weatherspoon has added 12 lbs. this off-season and now weighs in at 250 lbs.
“I feel great playing at that weight,” Weatherspoon said in an interview with ESPN.com’s Tim Griffin. The added weight isn’t slowing him down either. He still runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds; the same speed he ran when he weighed 235 lbs. a year ago.
“I can still run. I could run at 235 just like I did at 215,” he said. “And now at 250, I’m still running with cornerbacks and racing against those backs. And the good thing is that if you put on more pounds, you can bring more thump when you hit.”
Hitting is exactly what the man everyone calls “Spoon” plans to do this year. Currently, Weatherspoon sits at 14th on Missouri’s all-time career tackles list with 302. James Kinney who recorded 434 career tackles between 2001-2004 currently holds the school record. If Weatherspoon has a year even close to his 2008 season, he should walk away as the school record holder. But while records are nice, Weatherspoon is not all about individual accomplishments.
“We have this thing called the law of the big picture. The big picture has nothing to do with one’s own agenda. I gotta put my agenda to the side and focus on what the team is all about,” Weatherspoon said in a recent interview with KOMU’s Eric Blumberg.
If you ask “media experts,” Missouri’s ‘big picture’ this season is not pretty. Mizzou has been given virtually no respect this offseason. At best, they have been picked to finish second in the Big 12 North. In some publications, the Tigers have been picked to finish as poorly as fifth in the North. Earlier this year, ESPN’s Andre Ware dogged Mizzou perhaps worse than anyone when he said, “It’s hard to find five wins for Missouri this year.”
That means Ware thinks Missouri will win four games this season. I don’t know about you, but I’m a little more optimistic than that. And more importantly, so is Sean Weatherspoon and the rest of the Tigers. If things go according to planned, not only will Mizzou prove doubters like Ware wrong, but Weatherspoon will also improve his draft stock while he’s at it.
Despite a 2008 season in which Weatherspoon led the Big 12 in tackles per game (11.07 per game), was named a 2nd team All-American, recorded 155 tackles, three interceptions, 7 pass break ups, and scored two touchdowns, he was still projected as only a third round NFL draft pick. Weatherspoon wants to prove doubters wrong and that has motivated him to return to Missouri for his senior season.
“Let’s come back and prove them wrong. Let’s win the Butkus [award],” Weatherspoon said.
In his effort to prove his individual doubters wrong, Weatherspoon has added weight, added motivation, and plans to prove Mizzou’s doubters wrong in the process.
Only time will tell who is right about the Tiger’s team this year, but one thing we know is true. Weatherspoon is the greatest linebacker in Missouri history and Tiger fans should be happy ‘Spoon’ is back for his senior season.