Missouri running back Dawson Downing saw a hole to his right late in the third quarter against Mississippi on Saturday and took it.
After breaking into the second level, the redshirt junior broke into the open field and had one man to beat in the Rebels’ Jaylon Jones.
Instead of beating him, Downing took the defensive back with him, carrying Jones for about 10 yards before stretching out his right hand.
“Honestly, it was kind of just instinct,” Downing said of the stretch. “You’re just trying to get the ball in the end zone.”
It was Downing’s first career touchdown, and he was greeted by a horde of Tigers to congratulate him. And they weren’t the only ones celebrating.
The running back’s parents, Ken and Kris Downing, were in attendance and — as their son was running toward them for the score — Kris said she and family were jumping up and down in celebration.
“It was awesome,” Kris said. “My husband was picking up the tables we were knocking over.”
Downing’s high school coach at Bishop Miege, Jon Holmes, was flipping between games on Saturday when he saw Downing’s touchdown. He said the moment flooded his phone with texts from people watching.
“It was a pretty cool thing to watch because I know how hard he’s worked to try to get into that situation there,” Holmes said.
Since coming to Missouri, Downing has worked his way up the program’s ladder; from walk-on to scholarship player to, now, a face in the offense.
To hear those around him tell it, he’s climbed each rung with a strong work ethic and a determination to prove he could play football at this level.
“For me, it’s almost the culmination of basically four years of work and trying to earn my spot and trying to prove myself,” Downing said of Saturday’s TD. “It just means so much because it’s this tangible thing that shows the results to all the hard work.”
It’s been Downing’s goal to be a Tiger since the end of his days at Bishop Miege, and despite scholarship offers from FCS and Division II schools, Downing knew he wanted to walk on at Missouri.
Kris Downing still remembers the moment she found out where Dawson wanted to be: right before his official visit to Northwest Missouri State.
“We had our bags packed and ready, and we were waiting on him to get out of the shower,” Kris said. “He came upstairs, and he looked at (me and his father) and he said ‘I’m not going.’”
Downing told his parents of his intentions to head to Columbia and try to play for Mizzou. “‘I can play Division I, and that’s what I’m doing,’” he told his parents.
“He knew he was capable of it, we knew he was capable of it, and he knew it was what he wanted to do, so of course we’re going to support that,” Kris said. “When he sets his mind to something he’s going to do whatever it takes to get it done.”
In his first three seasons at Mizzou, Downing made strides to better himself, so much so he earned a scholarship in August 2018. The steps forward, however, also came with some steps back, specifically near the end of last season.
Missouri diversified its running game and Downing wasn’t much in the picture. Not only had Tyler Badie become the Tigers’ third running back, but freshman Simi Bakare was getting a handful of carries over Downing at season’s end.
“When that stuff started happening last year, it wasn’t fun ... but he handled it,” Kris said. “And I think that puts the chip on his shoulder and makes him work even harder.”
Downing said the moment was “disheartening,” but credited a good support system in his parents and his faith for getting him through it.
Now, nearly a year later, he’s become the third set of legs in the Tigers’ running game.
Running backs coach Cornell Ford said Downing “by far” had the best summer of any running back, and while the team was ecstatic for Downing’s touchdown on Saturday, it didn’t take coach by surprise.
“He’s earned it,” Ford said. “He’s not the best athlete back there but he’s the most consistent, and that goes a long way in his position.
“It’s just the first of many,” Ford added. “I think he’ll get a lot more.”