COLUMBIA — Three days after having surgery for a torn meniscus, Will Ebner was back on the practice field running sprints.
“He was running right behind our offensive huddle,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “Will’s a tough kid. He has an extremely high pain tolerance. He’ll play through anything.”
Less than two weeks after the surgery, he was back on the field, in his familiar position at middle linebacker for Missouri’s game against Texas. With about 12 minutes to go in the first quarter, the sophomore jumped off his block and tackled Texas quarterback Colt McCoy before he could get back to the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a more stout guy,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “I’ll give him 5-11 . He’s one of those hard-nosed linebackers from the old school.”
Ebner’s desire to get out of the training room and back on the field was nothing new. He’s always preferred to be outside.
When he’s not playing football, Ebner enjoys being outdoors hunting and fishing. At a recent team meeting with the media, Ebner wore a T-shirt with the logo of Mathews, a company that sells bow and archery accessories. He also wore a camouflaged hunting hat.
Ebner’s brother Jake plays football at the University of Houston, where their father played. But football isn’t the only bond the family shares. One of Ebner’s favorite hobbies outside of football is hunting and fishing with his family near their bay house on the Gulf of Mexico, about 2 ½ hours south of Houston.
Ebner likes to fish for trout and redfish. His preferred method is to park the boat and wade into the water to go after fish. He also likes to hunt for ducks, geese and deer. No matter the time of year, he enjoys some form of outdoor activity.
“It kind of depends on what season it is,” Ebner said. “Right now it’s hunting. I like to do a lot of bow hunting.”
Since arriving at Missouri, Ebner has found teammates who share his love for the outdoors. Ebner and Gabbert, his roommate, were the last players to arrive at the team’s meeting with the media on Labor Day after returning from a fishing trip.
“It’s just a nice getaway,” Gabbert said. “We like to go fishing, just do all that.”
When Ebner first arrived at Missouri, he didn’t have access to land to hunt on. That’s where his ability to network with other outdoor enthusiasts came in handy.
“Will will talk to anybody,” Gabbert said. “He’s a real friendly guy.”
The social nature of hunting helped Ebner make connections.
“Hunting, in the big picture, is really a social network,” he said. “Everybody wants to show everybody else what they can do. So I started talking to people.”
The connections sometimes happen by chance.
“I met one kid, he worked at Bass Pro Shop,” Ebner said. “And I was just asking him about some stuff and became pretty good friends with him just from going to school here, and he’s one of my good friends now. I hang out with him a lot. He’s been able to take me to his land. Really, yeah, just talking to people making new friends. You never know who could have land, who could be able to take you.”
Now, Ebner has plenty of friends in Missouri willing to invite him to hunt on their land.
“He met a bunch of guys the first summer he was up here,” Gabbert said. “Just kind of made friends with them. And they’re not on the football team, so it’s not like we don’t have friends other than our team.”
For now, Ebner doesn’t have time to focus on hunting and fishing. With Luke Lambert likely out of Saturday’s game at Colorado with a dislocated shoulder, Ebner has assumed the starting job at middle linebacker.
“With Luke being banged up, having Will back as quick he came back, that came up big for us,” Weatherspoon said. “We would have been in a bind. We would have had to play a lot more younger guys instead of having our older guys who have been here for a lot longer.”
Ebner said he isn’t feeling the effects of the meniscus injury, though a significant amount of tissue was removed during the surgery.
“Not when I’m running, I don’t really feel it,” he said. “During the heat of the game, you don’t really notice anything on your body.”