Missouri’s football team is set to rally in Dallas on Friday afternoon for the Cotton Bowl.
Players and coaches went their various ways for Christmas, but preparations for the Oklahoma State game on Jan. 3 at AT&T Stadium gets down to the nitty gritty as the team reunites at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Of course, for a handful of Tigers, the Cotton Bowl is also a homecoming of sorts. Missouri features 32 players from the state of Texas.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said senior quarterback James Franklin, a native of Corinth in the Dallas suburbs. “All my family and friends are going to be there, so I’m excited about that, and hopefully they’ll all come out and support us.”
Franklin grew up 40 minutes from AT&T Stadium and went to last year’s Cotton Bowl, a 41-13 blowout delivered by Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel against Oklahoma.
Of course, Franklin is hardly the only player with Texas roots who is excited about returning to native soil.
“To play on Texas soil, it will be amazing,” said senior defensive end Michael Sam, a native of Hitchcock, Texas.
And it doesn’t matter that Hitchcock is located 40 miles south of Houston and nearly 300 miles from AT&T Stadium.
“I’m happy to go home, and it’s a blessing to be able to go home,” said junior running back Henry Josey, a native of Angleton, Texas. “I have family in Dallas and my dad stays in Dallas, so it’s home to me. Anybody from Texas will tell you, Texas is home and you don’t even have to say where you’re from.”
Some of Missouri’s players have experience at AT&T Stadium for the Texas state high school football playoffs, but playing there in the Cotton Bowl promises to be an even bigger moment.
“It is a thrill, especially for the Cotton Bowl,” said sophomore running back Russell Hansbrough, who grew up in Arlington. “I played there in Arlington and the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium around five times in high school, so it’ll feel like a playoff or state championship, only bigger.”
Of course, other players from Texas never got the chance to play at AT&T Stadium.
“The one time we made the playoffs in high school, we lost a coin flip for the chance to play a game there and we ended up losing that game,” senior safety Matt White of Keller, Texas, said. “This is going to be a lot of fun, and it’s a good feeling to get to go back and play in front of my friends and family.”
It’s a dream come true for a kid from the nation’s most football-crazed state.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing in Jerry’s World since I was a kid, especially the new stadium,” junior wide receiver Bud Sasser, a Denton native, said. “It’s always been on the goal list of mine. We didn’t make it in high school, so I’m pretty excited for the chance to go there.”
When most of the players from Texas were recruited, the chance to play several times a year there — against Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M or Texas Tech — was always used as a selling point.
Moving to the Southeastern Conference changed that dynamic, making the 2014 Cotton Bowl even more important.
“There was definitely the Big 12 onus when I got recruited, but when I got here, I was a Mizzou football player and I came to play for Mizzou,” junior right tackle Mitch Morse of Austin said. “When I first got here, it was a little downer, but there was no sulking about playing in the Big 12 knowing that I get to play in the SEC. It’s the craziest moment of my life, but it’s been a blast.”
Still, the chance to return to Texas is special for each of the Lone Star state natives.
“It means a lot,” said senior linebacker Donovan Bonner, a Dallas native. “I can’t put it any other way. It’s big. Playing my last collegiate game in Texas in front of my family and friends, a lot of guys that didn’t get to see me play over my five-year career here, it’s big for them and big for me.”