One year ago, Drew Lock popped into Lee’s Summit football coach Eric Thomas’ office to discuss the finer points of the game plan against Park Hill.
Six months ago, Lock attended Lee’s Summit’s prom and still hadn’t earned his high school diploma.
On Saturday, Lock will be Missouri’s starting quarterback against South Carolina in the Tigers’ SEC home opener — the hopes of more than 70,000 fans breathlessly pegged to every throw from his right arm.
Lock, who has appeared in seven series during Missouri’s first four games, was elevated to the Tigers’ starting role Tuesday when Maty Mauk was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Backup left tackle Malik Cuellar also was suspended by coach Gary Pinkel, who has never started a true freshman at quarterback in 15 seasons at Missouri.
That changes when the Tigers, 3-1 and 0-1 in the Southeastern Conference, kick off against the Gamecocks, 2-2 and 0-2 in the SEC, at 11 a.m. Saturday on the SEC Network.
“Ready or not, here we come,” Thomas said. “But I think he is ready. I think he’s shown that in the previous weeks, and I don’t think the coaches down there would throw him in if they didn’t think he was ready.”
As Missouri’s offense slogged through the first four games — averaging an SEC-worst 20.8 points, including a meager 47 points generated by the offense in three games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition — calls for Lock to replace Mauk have grown quite loud.
Mauk’s suspension wasn’t the way many envisioned Lock would get the chance to start, but now he’ll be playing for more than one second-quarter series and the sporadic fourth-quarter appearance.
“When it’s your time, it’s your time,” said Lock’s father, Andy. “When you’re the next man up, you’ve got to step in and do it. He’s the kind of kid that wants to play and wants to play badly. He would rather it be in a different fashion where he can see the field for an extended period of time, but that’s not something he can concern himself with right now.”
Lock’s only concern, according to both Thomas and his father, needs to be the Gamecocks’ defense and preparing to help lead Missouri’s offense.
“Drew is excited to prove himself and excited to try and help the Missouri Tigers beat the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday,” said Andy Lock, who played offensive tackle at Missouri from 1985 to 1989 and served as a senior captain. “(Drew’s mother) Laura and I are probably a little more nervous than he is.”
Lock is known for his cool, calm and collected demeanor. He’ll need to guard against getting too keyed up before Saturday’s game.
“I’ve never seen Drew really get nervous and it affect his level of play,” Thomas said. “He always has raised his level of play in those situations and has really excelled in those situations. He loves it. He loves the crowd and the atmosphere. It gets him excited, and he wants to perform for his team and for those situations.”
Thomas said Lock’s former Lee’s Summit teammates used to call it “Friday Night Drew,” and now he’s hoping his new Tigers teammates will get acquainted with “Saturday Morning Drew.”
Of course, Lock’s father is also hoping to temper wild, sky-high expectations.
“I do worry about it a little, but the other side of it is that I’ve seen Drew in these situations a lot in his life,” Andy Lock said. “Not to this magnitude, but I’ve seen him in high-pressure situations at the Elite 11 and U.S. Army All-American Game — times when he’s had to perform and it’s been a pretty big stage.
“Ninety-nine times out of 100, he’s done well. I fully expect him to do well this weekend, but the expectation part of it might be a little unfair. The quarterback he’s going to be in 24 months as opposed to the quarterback he’s going to be on Saturday — it’ll be different.”
Andy Lock expects his son’s confidence, his mastery of the Tigers’ offense and ability to read defenses will continue to improve through his college career, which is only 4 months old.
The early returns, though, have been encouraging. Lock is 15 of 25 passing for 225 yards with a touchdown and an interception in limited action.
“He looks comfortable to me, and that’s the biggest step for any kid coming from high school to the next level,” Thomas said. “It’s never looked to me like the moment has been too big for him.”
Now Lock will get the opportunity to establish rhythm for the first time in a game.
“When you know you have a very limited time, probably one drive, it does change the way you approach things a little bit,” Andy said. “If you let him get warmed up and get in the flow of the game, he’s kind of a rhythm kid. Once he gets in rhythm and gets comfortable, he gets a little extra confidence about him, and he’s pretty hard to stop in an offense.”
Depending on how well Lock pilots Missouri’s offense, he could be in line to remain the starter and, at the very least, earn additional reps.
“Whatever comes after that is up to the coaches down there,” Thomas said. “They know what’s best for Drew and what’s best for their program.”