St. Louis area natives open Missouri football season at home

Friday, September 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:33 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 4, 2009
Blaine Gabbert, left, shown while playing in high school at Parkway West High School, was ranked as one of the top recruits in the nation before becoming a Tiger.

COLUMBIA — Ten years ago this month, the St. Louis Rams embarked on their Super Bowl championship season with a win over the Baltimore Ravens in what was then called the Trans World Dome.

Missouri freshman wide receiver T.J. Moe, from O'Fallon, remembers that season fondly. The thought of playing in that stadium, now called the Edward Jones Dome, brings back childhood memories of glory for his local NFL team.

"I used to go to Rams games when I was a little kid, so I've been in the dome a lot," he said. "We (his family) always had season tickets. I've been down on the field, but ... I've never gotten to play on it before. I remember when I was growing up, 1999, the Super Bowl year and everything, the Greatest Show on Turf.

"Going out there, trying to do the same things," he said, referring to himself and the team.

Moe is one of several Missouri football players from the St. Louis area positioned to see their first collegiate game action in close proximity to friends and family. The Tigers face Illinois at 2:40 p.m. Saturday.

"A lot of people have been texting me telling me they're going to come to the game," he said. "St. Louis is right there. A lot of my friends stayed around home to go to college and stuff."

Junior Munir Prince, a transfer from Notre Dame, is currently a backup safety. He already has fond memories from playing in the Edward Jones Dome. In 2005, Prince scored two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing) to lead DeSmet High School over Hazelwood Central in the Missouri Class 6 title game.

"The last game I played there, we won the state championship there, so I'm hoping that this time we can go in there and start the season off right, start my Mizzou career off right with a big win," he said. "I'm really looking forward to the game."

The spotlight might fall heaviest, however, on Missouri's new starter at quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, from Parkway West High School in Ballwin.

"This being my first college start, I'm just going to go out there and have fun with it," he said. "You really can't worry about all the other outside factors that go into it. I've just got to stay calm and cool and relaxed. My family's all coming up for the game, so it will be pretty fun."

Other Tigers from the St. Louis area have seen game action but will take increased roles this year. Wes Kemp, Prince's high school teammate who also scored a touchdown in that 2005 high school game, is slated to start at wide receiver for the Tigers on Saturday.

"A lot of my family is going to be there," he said. "My high school coach is probably going to be there. So having a lot of family from St. Louis, I know probably a lot of people out there watching."

Kemp acknowledged that Saturday's game will be very different than anything players have experienced in camp.

"I don't think anybody can simulate, as for (quarterback) Blaine (Gabbert), as for me and some other guys from St. Louis, being in your hometown, playing in front of 70,000 people," he said. "I don't think you can ever simulate it, but they (coaches) try to put us in pressure situations in practice and get us close to it."

Running back De'Vion Moore, also from St. Louis, is listed second behind Derrick Washington but will likely see significant game action.

"Oh man, I'm excited. Got a lot of family, got a lot of people from the community coming out and watching the game," he said. "Now all those people that helped you get to where you are now, you get to go back and you just get to show them and display to them the type of hard work and dedication you put into the game. It's an exciting feeling."

As a high school senior, Moore watched the Chicago Bears play the Rams at the dome. Along with several other high school players, Moore was invited to watch part of the game from the sidelines.

"To actually be there for yourself and be in the position to play on the field that you watched those professionals play on ... it's like, 'Wow, I'm here,'" he said. "It's a good feeling."

Prince said he's proud to represent St. Louis at the game.

"Me, Wes and (freshman cornerback Robert) Steeples, we're all from DeSmet," Prince said. "Just having a good game I think just gives St. Louis a better name as a football area. You know you've got Florida, you know you've got Texas and California, but if we do good in this game, it'll give Missouri players a better rep, a better name, especially in the St. Louis metro area."

Moore agreed a good game could only help attract more players from the area.

"It's a talented area," he said. "Us being able to win games, and at home basically, I think it'll do a lot for recruiting. The St. Louis area, they're into Missouri football."

The players' anticipation for the home opener was obvious.

"We've just got to win," Moe said. "When you come into St. Louis, everybody's watching the game. You're playing on ESPN, right in the middle of the day. Everybody knows it's going on. Everybody's watching the game, especially kids from Missouri and St. Louis."

Shifting from fall camp competition between offense and defense to game competition is particularly exciting, Moore said.

"Now it's basically our team versus another team. It's just a great feeling to be able to be like, 'OK, we're going to come together, guys, and we're going to make it happen.'"

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