With the exception of a few fleeting moments here and there, Drew Lock has been hyped, coveted and otherwise plenty appreciated virtually all of his athletic life. Maybe that’s never been more true than now: The University of Missouri senior quarterback from Lee’s Summit is being cast as a Heisman Trophy candidate both by the school and via various prominent watch lists.
“It’s an awesome problem to have,” he said.
Accent on “problem,” at least the way Lock thinks.
Never mind that Lock was the object of considerable attention at Southeastern Conference media days, surely among the most-sought interviews of any player here this week.
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Forget that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey went out of his way to re-introduce himself to Lock as he passed in a hallway or that Lock appeared with Paul Finebaum on the SEC Network and that, heck, Lock was even asked to cradle a baby on the blue carpet as he entered the main media center at the College Football Hall of Fame.
So what if he was invited to the elite Manning Passing Academy this summer and Wednesday heard himself compared to NFL quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Joe Flacco?
None of that has any impact at all on a precious motivational commodity that Lock still clings to even after throwing for an SEC- and Mizzou-record 44 touchdown passes last season and being expected to be among the top quarterbacks chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Instead, he still deftly plays the disrespect mind trick, the precious currency of many successful athletes. Silly as it can seem, why knock what works?
Even amid the Heisman talk, that was the signature of Lock’s day on Wednesday — including when a random SEC fan asked Lock to sign a Missouri helmet.
“Where’s the University of Missouri?” Lock playfully asked.
Since the fan didn’t know, Lock handed it back without signing it and later somewhat incredulously explained, “He had no idea.”
Extreme as this might seem coming from the amiable and sharp young man, it speaks to an extra force that drives him and his vigilance against complacency. And it speaks to the sense many MU fans have about how the school is perceived around the SEC.
“I’ve always been the guy to think no one respects me as a quarterback, no one thinks I’m anything: That just kind of always kept a chip on my shoulder,” Lock said. “It also comes with the whole University of Missouri thing.
“When we play well, it’s because the teams are bad. When we throw a touchdown, it’s because the guy was wide open. When we bust a run, it’s because the hole was huge and the (defense) split the wrong gaps.
“It’s not because we threw a good ball, because we have great wide receivers, because our offensive line is great. It’s because the other team did bad, and I’m hoping that changes this year.”
If that’s going to happen, if MU is going to contend in the SEC East for the first time since winning back-to-back divisional titles in 2013 and 2014, much will hinge on vast improvement on defense.
But it wouldn’t even be a discussion point if not for Lock coming back to an offense that returns 10 starters and has no obvious favored replacement for him.
Luckily for Mizzou, Lock didn’t feel, well, respected enough by the NFL to enter the 2018 draft.
Since some questioned his intermediate passing skills and others such basics as his ability to work under center and familiarity with traditional NFL combo routes, Lock didn’t figure to be a first-round pick.
When Lock called to tell coach Barry Odom his decision, Odom was walking on a street in Charlotte, N.C., during a coaching convention.
“I had a feeling that he was going to come back, but I also had a feeling that he was leaving,” Odom said, smiling and adding that the verdict made for “a celebration. It was almost a little giddy.”
Odom also felt relieved and an added sense of responsibility to make good on hiring the right replacement for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who took over at Central Florida.
Enter former Tennessee head coach and then-Dallas Cowboys assistant Derek Dooley, with whom Lock had felt in harmony when they spoke during the search process. Theoretically, anyway, Dooley should be able to help Lock further prepare for the NFL.
That could well mean diminished statistics for Lock this season, with a more controlled pace and measured approach. Or, as Lock put it, there will be fewer “two-play drives where we score a touchdown or three-play three-and-outs.”
Not that he expects Dooley to disavow the deep ball.
“It better still be a thing,” Lock said, laughing.
But Lock knows gaudy stats may or may not be related to winning football. And if he wants anything to be his legacy, it’s leaving MU a meaningful winner with momentum towards more.
That always was the idea at the school where his father, Andy, and grandfather, Jerry, played. But he got a comeuppance as he struggled his freshman year after spending most of his life dominating with sheer athletic ability.
“I had confidence, but I had kind of false confidence,” said Lock, who credited Heupel for bringing “true confidence back out of me.”
He remembers, too, “a lot of people called me out (and said Lock is) ‘not going to be who everyone thought he would be.’ You just kind of take those with a grain of salt.”
Actually, he takes it quite to heart to this day, a day he relished speaking to grievances.
Asked about Texas coach Tom Herman mocking Lock’s backpack celebration gesture during the Texas Bowl loss, Lock noted he’d been doing it all season and had turned toward the Missouri bench. He later asked, “Does anyone know how old (Herman) is?”
Asked about Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson telling The Maneater that it was so quiet at Memorial Stadium last year that he could hear himself thinking, Lock laughed.
“I play offense, don’t I? Yes, I do … He plays defense, doesn’t he? And we’re playing at Mizzou,” he said. “I really hope our fans aren’t yelling at us while we’re playing offense.”
That will just make for more fuel, unnecessary as it might seem for someone with so much going for him.
“I haven’t seen an end for me in football, so that just means the gates are open, all possibilities are there,” he said. “So I need to keep a chip on my shoulder to be able to reach whatever it is that ends up happening for me in this game of football.”