Somewhere beyond the roar of the stadium, the clashing of helmets and thousands of passionate sports fans is a group of kids simply there to watch their dads do their job.
While many lost faith in the University of Missouri football team during its 1-5 start to the season, the children of the MU coaching staff never did. Even before the Tigers rattled off a six-game winning streak entering Wednesday’s Texas Bowl, where they could become just the second team to start a season 1-5 and end it with a bowl win.
So what have the ups and downs looked like through the eyes of those children, who this week are in Houston for the big postseason game against the Texas Longhorns?
“I think the Idaho game was a big win for us to build up our confidence and turn the season around,” said 8 year-old Ben Odom, son of Mizzou outside linebackers coach Brian Odom and his wife, Mackenzie.
Wearing a black and gold cape during every game garnered the second-grader some attention on social media. His uncle (and MU head coach) Barry Odom brought him in front of reporters at a recent news conference.
“The cape is just the way I cheer on my team, whether it’s 90 degrees or 35 degrees,” Ben Odom said. “I keep it on as long as my mom says I can.”
Ben heard the negativity from fans and classmates this year, and not about his game-day garb. The whispers and catcalls were about the team’s struggles.
“I heard some comments, but it doesn’t really affect me because I thought we would turn it around,” he said. “I’m proud of my dad and the team.”
J.T. Odom, 13, and Garyt Odom, 11 — sons of Barry and Tia Odom — were subject to criticism as well. But the way they handled themselves under scrutiny put them 50 yards ahead of how most adults would react under similar circumstances.
“A lot of kids said things about my dad being in the hot seat and how he was going to get fired,” J.T. said.
A seventh-grader who’s thinking about becoming a journalist, J.T. said he would shrug off such comments and try his best to act like they didn’t affect him.
“They really have no idea what is actually going on with the university,” he said. “So as much as you want to react to what is being said, you realize if you say anything back it will only allow them to come back with something else.”
Having his father gone for much of the season can be hard, but J.T. was quick to point out how much effort his dad put into seeing his family.
“He goes to as many events of ours as he can, and if he gets an extra 10 minutes, he’ll be home for 10 minutes,” he said. “So he’s busy trying to keep up with us, too.”
J.T.’s brother, Garyt, said the comments he received were mixed based upon the wins and loses of the team. He, too, did his best to ignore the bad ones.
“I don’t think that people realize that being a coach’s kid is a lot different than just being a kid,” he said, “because you have to deal with a lot of adversity.”
The sixth-grader loves how the season ended — on a high note.
“I think this season really surprised a lot of people,” Garyt said, “and it puts us in a really good position to keep the momentum going into the next season. Wins and losses are really just all part of God’s plan.”
Ten-year-old Garyt Kurowski, the son of Mizzou director of athletic equipment operations Mike Kurowski and wife, Valerie, said his class didn’t talk much about the losses.
“Some of the kids talked about it, but some are Arkansas fans, too, so they don’t really care,” Kurowski said. “Now that we’re in a bowl game, we are all starting to talk about it a little more.”