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Weatherspoon brings personality to Missouri football

Friday, October 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:50 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 16, 2009
Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has always stood out in a crowd. "He met no strangers," his mother Elwanda Weatherspoon said.

COLUMBIA — Sean Weatherspoon is often at the mercy of Sean Weatherspoon.

And as the cluster of men and women descend on him, recorders and notebooks in hand, it’s easy to see why.

Saturday's game

Missouri (4-1, 0-1)
at Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-0)

WHEN: 8:15 p.m.
WHERE: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
TV: ESPN2


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He answers each question as comfortably as the next, never stumbling over his words, at home in the midst of another welcomed opportunity to be the one carrying a conversation, occasionally flashing the wide smile that his high school coach says makes everything right. A mohawk is subtly carved into his already short hair. A grey wool coat struggles to contain his hulking shoulders.

He is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound heap of personality and, when the camera is rolling, that personality takes over. Everything else is just along for the ride.

•  •  •

It doesn't take reporters' notebooks or TV cameras for Sean Weatherspoon to steal the moment. From the time Weatherspoon could talk he always managed to find his way into the center of attention. Whether the Weatherspoons were out to eat or in any room full of people, he would engage anyone willing to listen.

"He met no strangers," Weatherspoon's mother Elwanda Weatherspoon said. "If Sean could find some people to talk to, he would tell them a story."

Weatherspoon would wander over to a neighboring table and, the moment anyone said hello, he was off.

They were any stories he could remember, mostly from TV or comic books, but the content didn't matter quite as much as the delivery.

Elwanda Weatherspoon has been a third-grade teacher for 25 years, and while the ability to put a story together, with a beginning, middle and end can often escape her 9-year-olds, her son was a natural.

"As a 3-year-old, 4-year-old, he could relate it back using all the elements of storytelling," Elwanda Weatherspoon said.

Mrs. Weatherspoon did what any courteous mother could do. She inquired whether her son was disrupting a stranger's meal, and tried to politely apologize. But she could rarely get it out.

"Everyone always said, 'No, it's OK. He's such a good entertainer,'" Elwanda Weatherspoon said with a laugh.

Eventually, tables full of restaurant patrons turned into everyone walking the high school hallways.

"There wasn't anybody in our high school that didn't like Sean Weatherspoon," former Jasper High School coach Dan Lauve said. "He treated everybody with respect. Of course he has that huge smile. There wasn't anybody in Jasper that did not like Sean Weatherspoon."

A few minutes with Elwanda Weatherspoon leaves little mystery to how Sean Weatherspoon developed into a charismatic star. A half-hour trip to Walmart often turns into a three hour affair. It's partly because everyone around needs to ask "Sean's mom" how he's doing, but it doesn't hurt that whenever there's an opportunity to talk, Elwanda Weatherspoon is going to take it.

"People ask me why I'm always smiling," Elwanda Weatherspoon said. "Well, why not?"

Conversations about football may fall on deaf ears ("That's dad's territory," she says), but there's no doubt. Sean Weatherspoon is his mother's son.

"She's always loud," Sean Weatherspoon said. "She's always talkin'. If you're willing to listen, she's willing to talk. And that's how I am too. I love to talk, man. If somebody wants to talk that's always been me."

•  •  •

Most of the team was done for the day.

But his teammates began to file back in as they heard.

It was this past summer. The bar was outfitted with about 340, 350 pounds. Weatherspoon can't recall exactly. Safe to say it was more than anyone else had. He could lift the weight on the first few tries, he says, but not with the speed that was required for it to count. So he tried again. And again. And again.

"He just would not stop," Missouri junior cornerback Kevin Rutland said. "And it almost brought tears to his eyes, the fact that he couldn't get it."

Weatherspoon has always done his best to channel the instances where people have slighted him. He remembers how few people knocked on his door in high school. He remembers when he arrived in Columbia how little respect his new program received. He listens now as linebackers across the country get the respect he feels he deserves. But All-Americans can have a hard time finding disrespect.

So he kept trying. Almost a dozen times, he tried. An hour later Missouri strength and conditioning coach Pat Ivey told him that was enough for today.

At that moment he knew. The only person he needed to prove anything to was the last one who could give him a run.

"That's when I learned how to compete against myself," Weatherspoon said.

•  •  •

More is expected of him now.

From the moment he announced his return after the Alamo Bowl, he knew. He was going to be the face of Missouri football. In public, there is no Jeremy Maclin or William Moore to increase his anonymity. He knows people whisper. But it's what he wanted. It's just another opportunity.

"I thought about how tough it would be to be that person, and if I was up to that challenge to become that leader," Weatherspoon said. "I thought that would help me become a better football player."

•  •  •  

On first-and-10, with the scored tied early in the second quarter, and the rain pouring down, a dark blur darts untouched through the cluster of bodies and drags down the Nebraska quarterback before he gets back to the line of scrimmage.

The roar identifies the blur before the eyes perched high above Faurot Field even have a chance. It’s an audible wave that builds in the student section before splintering in every direction all at once.

"Spoooooooooooooon."

It’s the sound of affirmation.

Sean Weatherspoon has arrived.

Four years ago, he was a passed over high school recruit with a handful of Division I offers and a silent phone.

Now, Memorial Stadium is lined with people carrying spoons, some wooden, some giant cardboard cutouts wrapped in foil. He is a Lombardi Award semifinalist. He's an All-American. His play, along with his entrancing personality have made him the most visible player in an ever more visible program.

"I'll always remember this," Weatherspoon said. "When I'm old, fat and grey, I'll think back on this and the way things were."

As he springs off the ground, and the Nebraska quarterback, he lets out a yell, and the hair stands on the back of his neck as echoes of his name fill the night.

This time it's just a yell, but against the Nevada Wolfpack it was the howl of a wolf. It's often anything to make things a bit more fun.

Some players with legendary talent come to view football as a job, a chore or something they fall into by necessity rather than choice.

But from the moment he started playing, Sean Weatherspoon's passion was inescapable. Football is just another way for his indelible energy to shine. Football isn't an obligation. Football is peace.

"I'm not worried about anything," Weatherspoon said. "As soon as I leave to the hotel to get ready for the game, everything else is gone. I don't have any problems when it's time to do football."

Is it safe to say that when the Tigers take the field on Saturday night against Oklahoma State that there's no other place he would rather be?

"You'd be really safe to say that," Weatherspoon said, cracking that gigantic smile. "Every time we step out there, no matter who we're playing, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

 


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Comments

Jackie Mackey October 16, 2009 | 10:16 a.m.

Way to go Sean! Keep up the good work.

Cousin Jackie

(Report Comment)
Robert craig October 16, 2009 | 2:47 p.m.

Spooooooon! Go get 'em!

(Report Comment)
rita martin October 16, 2009 | 4:00 p.m.

GREAT JOB TO MY CUZ --KEEP DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING--I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. I KNOW MY AUNTIE IS ON CLOUD NINE AND SHE SHOULD BE --WAY TO GO YALL LOVE DITTIE'S CHILD FOR LIFE

(Report Comment)

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