It was one of those hot August days, when tempers flare and teammates become momentary combatants.
It’s not uncommon at training camps across the country.
When it happened at Missouri camp two weeks ago as sweat-soaked players walked off the practice field, first-year coach Barry Odom blew his whistle and directed the entire team to the far goal line for up-downs the length of the field.
It was meant to send a message: Toughness wins and all that, but we’re still teammates here.
It also revealed senior linebacker Michael Scherer’s character.
Senior defensive tackle Josh Augusta is the heaviest player on the Tigers’ roster. He’s listed at 355 pounds, but earlier in camp he said he weighed closer to 370.
After three hours in the searing sun, dropping to the Kadlec Athletic Fields grass behind the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex and getting up again every few yards was no easy task and Augusta fell behind.
Scherer backtracked and finished the grueling punishment by Augusta’s side, offering ceaseless encouragement with every step.
“You can’t leave a guy behind,” Scherer said. “Big Josh, it’s tough. I’m 235 pounds. He’s a lot more than that. It’s not as easy for him. He needs a little help. ... I know Josh. I’ve been around Josh long enough to know that he needs somebody there to help him through it and he’ll get it done. That’s what I tried to do.”
Scherer didn’t feel an obligation as a team leader. That’s not even a role he sought for himself, but Scherer’s actions are what make him a rallying force for the Tigers’ vaunted defense.
“From the day I’ve stepped on campus, he’s been the leader consistently in his work ethic, the way he prepares for practice and, as I’m watching him get prepared for this game, he’s dialed in,” new defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. “People respond to him. I know defensively, we respond to him.”
Scherer understands Missouri’s defense looks to him and has accepted the role.
“I have no choice, but I’ve embraced it,” he said. “I like it and it’s different for me having to be the one, when things are down, to get the guys going. I have learned how to do it. ... I just know people are looking at me and I have to be the one setting the standard and playing well on every single down.”
Scherer is one of only four returning players in the Southeastern Conference — Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Auburn safety Johnathan Ford and South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore, who will miss the season after neck surgery — with 90-plus tackles each of the last two seasons.
He recorded 114 in 14 games as a sophomore in 2014 and totaled 93 in 12 games as a junior despite a variety of nagging injuries.
“I think at one point last year I had two broken hands,” Scherer said. “It was tough, because I’ve never had problems like that before.”
Scherer also battled a groin injury at the beginning of the season, aggravated a left elbow injury against South Carolina and suffered a wrist injury at Arkansas State.
He didn’t miss a game, but Scherer was occasionally limited at practice and unable to train properly last season.
“It was tough to deal with mentally,” Scherer said. “That’s the biggest part, going into a game knowing I can’t use my left hand or my groin is completely demolished right now and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
New strength and conditioning coach Rohrk Cutchlow helped Scherer improve his durability. He’s bigger and stronger, faster and has dropped body fat.
“He’s committed to the change and what’s being done in the weight room, and it’s definitely helped him to this point,” Cross said.
It’s also ramped up Scherer’s expectations for 2016. Winning is the primary aim, but he’s got a tackle record in mind, too.
“Selfishly, the goal is to pass up Coach (Barry Odom),” said Scherer, who has 213 career tackles.
He’s 149 behind Odom’s career total of 362, which ranks seventh in Mizzou history, and will count down his progress with a tracker in bedroom.
When — not if, Scherer said — he surpasses Odom’s career total, “I’m going to walk into his office and let him know.”
Perhaps that would even be enough to earn Scherer some all-conference love.
He wasn’t among 11 linebackers singled out for recognition on the SEC Coaches’ Preseason All-SEC Team earlier in the month, which simply provides more motivation for Scherer.
“It’s nothing new,” he said. “Yeah, I noticed. Do I care? Nope. I’m worried about playing the best I can and letting that all shake out. ... Rankings don’t matter, what people vote for doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens on Saturdays. I’m just trying to play the best I can, so we can win games.”