Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock at SEC Media Days
As Drew Lock walked across the footbridge that connects Faurot Field to the Missouri Athletic Training Complex, two people in a beige Ford Taurus eagerly awaited his arrival.
Missouri had just finished its last spring football practice before spring break, and Lock stepped off the bridge and began loading his white truck with his belongings. The Ford inched closer to Lock, and its trunk popped open, spilling multiple Missouri football helmets onto the ground.
“It’s him,” the car’s driver yelled to its passenger. “Go!”
Two young men ran out of the car. They began grabbing helmets and markers for Lock. Caught off guard, Lock signed one helmet before seeing four more in the first stranger’s hand.
The quarterback looked over the man’s shoulder and saw the Ford stuffed to the brim with Missouri helmets. He declined to sign any more, got in his truck and left.
Experiences like this have become common for the Tigers’ Heisman Trophy hopeful, who has had to devise his own defenses from being exploited as his profile has grown.
NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting off their own likeness, which includes selling autographs. College stars such as Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel both received suspensions while in college for autograph signings.
Missouri athletic department spokesperson Nick Joos said student-athletes are generally trained to only autograph one item when approached by a fan and to personalize the signing when possible, to deter autograph hounds.
“Anytime they pull out the big old helmets and they’re grown men, it’s like ‘Dude you’re not giving this to Johnny,’” Lock said. “You’re taking this to someone.”
The Tigers’ compliance department usually monitors eBay and other websites for merchandise pertaining to its student-athletes. Anything the compliance office finds that’s against NCAA rules leads to a cease and desist letter from the university to the seller.
A quick eBay search of Lock’s name found over 50 items, most of which were signed photos and helmets of Lock’s, ranging in price from around $10 to $315.
Because NCAA rules do not permit Lock to sign autographs for money until he turns pro, businesses like eBay are a respected place for collectors to buy his autograph because of its limited quantity. Dealers usually base the price off of comparable items and players, according to Chris Nerat, a football expert for Heritage Auctions.
“The real Drew Lock autographs you’ll see on eBay are going to be few and far between because they’re not cranking them out in private signings,” Nerat said.
One of the few NCAA-approved items that comes up is a set of Leaf cards Lock signed when he played in the Army All-American game in 2015, his senior year of high school.
Lock signed 50 variations of cards, which are valued from $12 to $50, according to Justin Grunert, a football market analyst at Beckett Media. Grunert said those cards could attract fans who were sold on Lock’s NFL potential when the quarterback from Lee’s Summit was just a teenager.
“It’s like speculation before the speculation,” Grunert said.
Lock’s father, Andy, a former Missouri offensive lineman, said he periodically checks eBay to see if someone is selling any Drew Lock memorabilia. He’s never coached his son on how to handle autographs.
“It didn’t even cross my mind,” the father said. “I’m a trustful guy. I didn’t see that coming at all.”
Offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton described Lock as a “yes man” when it came to signatures early in his career, but Lock has become increasingly cautious.
Andy Lock recalled watching his son sign autographs after a game in 2015 shortly after he became the Tigers’ starting quarterback. He signed for a group of kids before an older man with a mini-helmet arrived. Drew reluctantly signed the man’s helmet.
“That was nice you signed the kids’ autographs,” Andy Lock told his son.
“The guy with the mini-helmet, I’ve seen him a couple of times,” Drew replied. “I think he has ulterior motives.”
It wasn’t until late June, at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, that Lock decided to completely change his approach when dealing with older fans. He became more skeptical.
While hanging out with Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was working with Lock as camp counselors, the two saw someone sitting outside their dorms with a sedan packed with boxes.
“He’s not moving his house,” Lock thought.
As the two SEC quarterbacks left their dorm, the man approached both of them. He pulled Auburn and Missouri helmets out of his car. Lock signed one, while Stidham declined. The same man ended up getting Stidham to sign a helmet at the airport after the camp, while introducing himself under a different name.
For Lock, that was the last straw.
“I’m like, these guys are just out here getting money, and I’m done with that,” Lock said. “So unless it’s a little kid, I’m probably not signing it.”
Lock said he still tries to be reasonable with older fans. Before signing, he asks them questions about the rest of the MU team to determine if they’re true fans or just looking to profit.
When Lock walked into the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for his appearance at SEC Media Days in July, he was once again approached by older “fans” holding football helmets.
Lock approached one man with a Missouri helmet and took it in his hands.
“Where is the University of Missouri?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” the man replied.
Lock left the helmet unsigned and continued walking.
“Drew I came all the way from Lee’s Summit,” another fan yelled.
“What’s your favorite place to eat in Lee’s Summit?” Lock asked, holding a marker.
After the man replied with a sushi restaurant Lock recognized, he happily signed the helmet.
Lock told The Star he doesn’t want to come off rude when in situations like these. He’s simply trying to look out for himself.
“I was just trying to see if he’d say anything,” Lock said of his approach. “Just give me something to run with.”
During Missouri’s fan day on Saturday, Lock generated the longest line for autographs of any player. At its peak, the line stretched the horizontal length of the Devine Pavilion.
Lock is able to lower his guard a bit at events such as this one. He knows most people at fan day are there to see the entire team, and many are season ticket-holders.
As one fan told Lock he hopes the New York Giants draft him, the quarterback grinned, then signed a photo collage of himself for the same fan.
He reflected on his dealings with the sports memorabilia industry and stood by his new system, saying that it only really affects a small group of fans.
“It’s not being arrogant; it’s not me being mean,” Lock said. “If you try and take advantage of me I’m not going to let that happen.”