Missouri senior left guard Max Copeland always takes the practice field with a smile on his face, but Monday he said he felt unburdened.
Senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas was thrilled to skip a few wind sprints, but he wasn’t dogging it, nor resting a lingering injury.
The reason? Graduation.
A select few Tigers could celebrate last week between absorbing a beating in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Auburn and returning to the practice field nine days later in preparation for a showdown with Oklahoma State on Jan. 3 in the Cotton Bowl.
“Now, we get to be full-time football players, which is the dream,” said Copeland, who received a bachelor’s degree in physics. “It is nice to have a big burden lifted off our shoulders. It’s good to have that out of the way.”
Lucas, a Liberty High School graduate, couldn’t agree more.
“Being a college graduate out here, it’s a little different,” he said. “We got out of some running today. All the graduates got out. It’s crazy. Three-and-a-half years went by really fast. It’s an achievement that I set for myself a long time ago and that my mom (Monique) really values, so I’m glad I got that accomplished.”
Now, Copeland and Lucas — along with the rest of the Tigers — will focus their full attention on the Cowboys, 10-2, who won the last three meetings when the teams were Big 12 brethren.
No. 9 Missouri, 11-2, took a week off from football to focus on finals, but the Tigers got down to the business of carrying the SEC banner for the first time in a bowl game.
It was also the first chance for Missouri to begin washing away the sour taste of a 59-42 loss against Auburn in the SEC title game.
“The time off was probably needed from a physical standpoint, but from a mental and emotional standpoint you kind of get restless when you’re off the field,” Copeland said. “It was good to be back out here. We all had lingering things we needed to work out. Some were physical, some were emotional and we got to come out here and do that, so it was good.”
For the nine Missouri seniors who graduated last weekend, and the 11 others who already have their degrees or are expected to graduate in May, all that matters now is that final chapter on the field.
“We’ve done a great job this year of getting over things and putting it behind us, so we can keep moving forward as a team,” junior running back Henry Josey said. “The seniors’ story isn’t finished yet. We’ve still got one more game to finish off the season right and send these seniors off the right way.”
Lucas received a bachelor’s degree in business, along with linebacker Michael Brennan.
Defensive end Michael Sam, who is the SEC defensive player of the year and accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl on Monday, graduated with a degree in parks, recreation and tourism, which he punctuated with his trademark sack dance at commencement.
Missouri’s other graduates last weekend included quarterback James Franklin, linebacker Donovan Bonner, wide receiver Jaleel Clark, tight end Eric Waters, safety Matt White, defensive back Tyler Davis and tight end Kyle Peasel.