Before the season, Logan Cheadle talked about legacy. He was almost obsessed with restoring the Missouri football team’s luster before his time in black and gold ended.
“When I think about the guys that were seniors my freshman year (2014) or guys like Sean Weatherspoon, who put so much time and effort into this program, I want them to be able to look back and see their team winning,” said Cheadle, a senior cornerback with the Tigers and Lee’s Summit West graduate.
“I know that’s huge for me when I look back at my high school and I know it will be huge for me when I leave Mizzou. We owe those guys to keep winning, it’s a tradition they started and a foundation they laid. We owe it to the older guys and alumni to keep a winning tradition.”
Midway through the season — and with the Tigers languishing at 1-5, including blowout losses against South Carolina, Purdue, Auburn and Georgia — the odds of that happening seemed bleak.
Cheadle arrived at Missouri in time for the second of back-to-back SEC East division titles, but the program had endured a coaching change, a player boycott that drew national headlines and consecutive losing seasons in the two years since.
It seemed as if a third straight losing season (and third straight season without a bowl appearance for the first time since 1999-2002) was inevitable.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another season of college football purgatory. Second-year coach Barry Odom unleashed a post-game rant about winning and his belief in the program, he set fire to remnants of the early-season struggles and the schedule got considerably easier.
Six wins later, the Tigers (7-5) are among the hottest teams in the Bowl Championship Series ahead of a showdown against former Big 12 rival Texas (6-6) at 8 p.m. Wednesday during the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston.
“I wouldn’t say we’re where we belong yet, but we’re definitely getting back to what Missouri football us,” Cheadle said. “That includes making a bowl game every year. … That’s something Missouri fans expect of us.”
It’s also the beginning, he hopes, of a renewed legacy of winning — one that should be sustainable, if the resolve of the underclassmen is any indication.
“I’m extremely proud,” Cheadle said. “I talked earlier about how proud I am of the younger guys. … To have the start that we did this year, going 1-5, it would have been really easy for the younger guys to turn it in and start looking toward next year.”
Instead, the Tigers’ underclassmen “buckled down, stepped up, and went hard at practice and everything to help us turn the season around,” Cheadle said.
There was never a doubt the seniors would keep fighting, because “it’s the last ride for some of us, but I’m more proud of the younger guys for sticking with it,” Cheadle said.
“After the Auburn game, I felt horrible about it, because I played bad that game and I was worried that people would start giving up,” Cheadle said. “I’d seen it before. I felt like last year it happened a little more. But after coming in the next day and seeing how people were going right back to work … and didn’t let it affect them, I wasn’t worried and I think that says a lot about the group of guys we had.”
Cheadle said as important as Odom’s histrionics were, it was really the personnel shuffling to find the right player combinations, especially on defense, that revived the Tigers’ fortunes.
It’s allowed Cheadle to feel much better about the shape in which he’s leaving the program.
“Until my sophomore year here, I’d never had a losing season in football in my life,” said Cheadle, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences with a certification in sales and customer development. “I’m not used to it. Obviously, at Lee’s Summit West, we were traditionally a winning program. Throughout Pop Warner, we used to win the Truman Bowl every year. It was a culture shock to me that first losing season I had.”
But Cheadle’s last football season will provide much better memories, including the trip to Houston for the showdown with the Longhorns.
“It’s my last time to be around this group of guys — guys in my four years here I’ve put a lot of work, time, sweat and tears in with; people I live with and see every day at the (Mizzou Athletics Training Complex); people I practice and lift with,” Cheadle said. “I’m looking forward to enjoying a fun atmosphere with them one more time and then obviously just going out and trying to get this win against a Big 12 opponent, a historically great team like Texas. It’ll be huge, so I’m excited for it.”