There was a hint of theater, but it was all calculated.
Missouri senior linebacker Eric Beisel embraced his inner Zeus — a nickname he received from a high school baseball coach — during an entertaining Wednesday morning at SEC Media Days.
The centerpiece of Beisel’s performance was rehashing a proclamation before last season’s finale against Arkansas, when he warned against the Razorbacks bothering to show up for the game — a 28-24 win in which Mizzou rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit.
“After I said that, it was all business from there,” Beisel said. “It was just a silly thing I did and I hoped that they’d be thinking about it all week. But after I said, I was in the playbook and game-planning, because now we’ve got to win that game.”
Beisel made eight tackles against Arkansas. MU treks to Fayetteville, Ark., in this season’s finale.
“I turned my social media off the second I looked at my phone and had over 1,000 notifications from Twitter,” Beisel said. “Obviously, I stirred the pot a little bit. I probably I guess you could call it, I poked the bear. I’d say it’s more poking a cute, little kitten with obviously who we were playing.”
He was admonished by Tigers coach Barry Odom, who apologized to Hogs coach Bret Bielema on Beisel’s behalf, but teammates didn’t seem to take exception.
“I didn’t have Twitter at the moment, but I got shown that … and I was a little blown away,” junior quarterback Drew Lock said. “I thought maybe he had a little idea behind it with the whole Kansas thing, trying to get a Kansas (Border War) rivalry back into it. But I think it was a bold statement.”
It was, and it was intended to be.
“When we played that team down south, I was hoping that would happen and hoping maybe I’d serve as a distraction,” Beisel said. “Call it bulletin-board material, I’d be glad to my face on their bulletin board and have their players walking by, seeing my red beard every morning. I hoped it would spark something, and it did.”
Beisel said he got extra attention from Arkansas’ defense during the game, which helped Missouri because it left teammates — for instance, defensive end Marcell Frazier and safety Thomas Wilson — unblocked.
“Everyone knows me in the locker room, so they expect that sort of stuff from me and they know how confident I am — cocky, arrogant, whatever you want to call it,” Beisel said. “But they know I’m not selfish and did it for the betterment of the team. They know that I had confidence in the team to do that. If anything, it fired us up to go win a game.”
Beisel also unleashed a rant about the Border War and, without the hint of a snicker, explained that he’s certain that he’s a reincarnated gladiator.
“I truly believe that I … lived a past life as a gladiator,” Beisel said. “And I like to completely live that out. I step into the arena every Saturday with tons of fans, crazy fans, who just want to see bloodshed, and I’m happy to give it to them.”
Beisel — who totaled 22 tackles, primarily on special teams, during his first two seasons — only amassed four tackles during Mizzou’s first seven games last season.
That production spiked after stepping for Michael Scherer, who torn an ACL during a homecoming loss to Middle Tennessee. Beisel averaged eight tackles per game during the final games in 2016, including a career-high 14 tackles at South Carolina and 10 at Tennessee.
“I learned a ton,” he said. “Whenever I stepped in that role, it went smoothly just because I expected to be there. It was exciting, of course, that it was finally happening. I didn’t see it going that way, being on the bench for so long. But when I got out there, it was so natural. I just did my thing and executed.”
Beisel was a natural at SEC Media Days, too.
He’s also shown some natural leadership ability during what the Tigers hope has been a transformative offseason after back-to-back bowl-free, losing seasons.
It was Beisel who set forth a series of goals for the Tigers in a Jan. 10 manifesto.
“He set up a check-off process of 20-plus goals that we had,” Lock said. “Each goal being one of the teams that we play this year, winning winter workouts, winning spring workouts, winning spring practice, winning summer practice and then winning camp.”
After each segment, the Tigers meet as a team and revisit progress against that checklist.
Lock said the team has met or exceeded the goals at each stage so far, except winter workouts because of a few absences and late arrivals.
“He’s a natural leader like that and a real vocal guy,” Lock said. “He’s great with the media and, without what he’s done up to this point, we’d be a different team.”
He’s a locker room presence like none other for Mizzou.
“His whole Zeus thing, he lives by that and thinks he’s Zeus,” Lock said. “He thinks everything he does has a reverse effect on someone. Sitting in the locker room one time, he was like, ‘The reason you’re asleep in that chair right now is because I was getting lunch.’ It’s like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ But he’s an interesting character. He’s fun in the locker room to where he brings good team camaraderie around it.”
Lock didn’t think Beisel would continue making bold predictions this season, but it as, of course, too late.
In one breath, Beisel praised Arkansas’ fans, Bielema and his staff and lauded the Razorbacks for having some “incredible players” before doubling down on the bravado with a preemptive warning to all Memorial Stadium visitors.
“Any team that thinks they’re going to come into our house, step onto our field, run the ball against us, pass the ball against us, stop our offense that returns 10 starters with Drew Lock leading the pack, that’s disrespect,” Beisel said. “Don’t come to our field and think you’re coming out with a win. Any team that does that, they’ll pay for it.”
“From a leadership standpoint, I made about five years’ worth of changes in about five months,” Beisel said. “If you want to compare our team right now to any team in the past two years, it’s not even close. We’re definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with. We’re going to come out and we’re going to dominate this year.”
Beisel, who interned this summer with the Mizzou athletic department’s marketing team and hopes to own his own business someday, played up the shtick for the suburban Birmingham circus, but his faith in the Tigers to build off a strong finish last November isn’t a joke.
“I’m just in my element here,” Beisel said. “I like to talk, I talk a big business and I’m excited to go out there and back it up. I hope I might have (ticked) a few people off and made a few Mizzou fans super excited for the season. That’s the expectation — that we’re going to win a lot of games this year.”