COLUMBIA — When Henry Josey thought back on Saturday just 48 hours after the Missouri football team’s first loss, his eyes became a little downcast. His wide smile barely faltered, but his eyes took on a steely resolve.
“I don’t like losing,” Josey said.
It’s as simple as that. Josey was not going to try to spin it any other way. He and fellow running back Marcus Murphy have seen the most playing time of any freshmen on the team. The 31-17 loss to Nebraska marked the first loss of their college careers, and the freshmen have done a good job of responding in a positive manner.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Josey and Murphy are two of the most mature freshmen he has ever coached. He added that some of his former players who are now in the NFL weren’t nearly as poised as the two running backs in their first year on the team. This maturity has been crucial not only in their athletic success, but also in their calm reactions to Saturday’s loss.
“In order to play at this level as a freshman, and all the things they have to know there, you have to be mature enough to deal with it,” Pinkel said.
That’s not to say that the two weren’t a little stunned by the team’s experience on Saturday. It wasn’t just the loss that shocked them, but also the atmosphere — the red and white screaming crowd, the looming walls of Memorial Stadium, the thousands upon thousands of red balloons that fans released when Roy Helu Jr. scored Nebraska’s first touchdown. It was a lot for a first-time visitor to Nebraska to take in, much less someone who had to line up on the turf and fight for a win.
“Saturday, it was pretty fun going on the road,” Murphy said. “We had a chance to beat a big-time opponent. It was a big-time deal.”
Both Murphy and Josey said they appreciate the experience for what it was: the opportunity to play a difficult road game and to learn how to adjust to a loss.
“Sometimes it can’t be all fun, and you’ve got to learn from it and make things better,” Murphy said.
Josey said that he doesn’t really like thinking back on what he learned or didn’t learn on Saturday. He said that it’s easy for him to move on and focus on his next game against Texas Tech, but one thing about the loss sticks with him.
“I don’t want to ever feel like that again,” Josey said.
Josey said he already knew how much he hated to lose, but he was forced to truly reflect on it after the game. In an overly quiet locker room, Josey said every player mentally adjusted to the loss on his own. The quiet helped players focus, and in the almost somber silence coaches realized how much the loss meant to the team.
“It did feel a lot different, but the coaches were saying that it’s changed over time,” Murphy said. “They said that we really felt the loss, were taking it more seriously. So I think we’ll learn a lot more from it.”
That’s Pinkel’s hope, especially for the younger players — that they come away from the loss with a better appreciation of how to handle such situations as a member of a team. He said that first-year players were his biggest concern at post-game meetings, and that he and other coaches need to be conscious of how those players handle the loss and, most importantly, move on.
“It’s a combination of making sure you counsel kids and just kind of watching body language and things like that,” Pinkel said. “But those kids will be fine — they came from a competitive background.”
Murphy and Josey have moved on. Rolling his eyes just slightly, Josey said that he is tired of talking about the loss and that he had mentally moved on by the morning after the game. As much as they hated the defeat, both Murphy and Josey know that they’re fortunate to have gone so long before their first loss.
“Quite frankly, if you wait until the end of October, beginning of November to lose a game every year for the rest of their career, that’s probably going to be OK,” Pinkel said.