University of Missouri

Missouri’s seniors on personal mission to restore winning ways

Updated: 2013-10-16T05:50:25Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

— L’Damian Washington didn’t know Harry Hite.

But when Washington saw Hite decked out in Tigers gold waiting for a flight at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport on the morning of Dec. 29, 2010, he had to speak with him.

Only a few hours earlier, Missouri was stunned 27-24 against Iowa in the Insight Bowl when Micah Hyde returned a Blaine Gabbert interception 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Washington, now a senior and No. 14 Missouri’s leading receiver, was only a redshirt freshman at the time. But that didn’t stop Washington for walking over and apologizing to Hite for Missouri’s loss.

“Our goal is to please our fans at the end of the day,” said Washington, who leads Missouri with 455 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season.

“We really appreciate everything, and it means a lot to wear the Mizzou uniform for all these guys.”

That sentiment has become even more true for the Tigers’ seniors.

Missouri’s football program soared to new heights during 2007-11, posting a 48-19 record that included at least a share of three Big 12 North championships and three bowl victories.

Last year, the Tigers thudded back to earth, finishing 5-7 and missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004. It didn’t set well with Missouri’s seniors-to-be.

“They’ve taken this real personal,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “I know the seniors have. Most of these guys have been here five years and they went to bowls every year except last year, and they want to get back.”

That desire to win was evidenced by Washington’s gesture after the Insight Bowl, even if the fan turned out to be Missouri senior linebacker Andrew Wilson’s maternal grandfather.

“He didn’t know he was my grandfather,” Wilson said, “but he just saw he was a Mizzou fan and L’Damian’s such a great guy.”

To Washington, the least he could do was offer some kind words and an appreciative hug to a fan who traveled 1,200 miles to watch a bowl game that Missouri lost in heartbreaking fashion.

“We just talked about Mizzou football,” Washington said.

“It’s great to chat with Mizzou fans sometimes and let them know how you feel from a player’s standpoint.”

Being a Tiger means the world to Washington.

“It’s something you dream about since like 5 years old, going to a big-time college and playing football on this kind of stage,” Washington said.

Missouri’s seniors take great pride in wearing black and gold, and that has been a driving force — along with better luck on the injury front — in the Tigers’ surge back to national relevance.

“Winning became a standard here at Mizzou,” senior left tackle Justin Britt said, “and that’s definitely something we talked about before the season — what do we want to be known for?”

The Tigers, who improved to 6-0 after knocking off No. 7 Georgia 41-26 on the road last week, have taken a step toward restoring their program’s winning legacy. But they face another stern test at 11:21 a.m. Saturday when No. 22 Florida arrives at Memorial Stadium.

“We want to be remembered as one of the best teams to come through Mizzou,” Washington said. “It’s huge for us to have a bounce-back season, and that’s one of the things that we drove home to all the young guys. We told them that we were going to attack this season, that every Saturday is a blessing and that we needed to make the most of every opportunity.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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