Missouri football players happy to be away on Christmas

Monday, December 27, 2010 | 12:00 p.m. CST; updated 9:41 p.m. CST, Monday, December 27, 2010
Members of the Missouri football team are greeted by Insight Bowl representatives after arriving by plane Wednesday at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas for the Missouri football players this year. It didn’t even feel like Saturday.

“It was a Wednesday practice for us,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “I don’t really know what day it was, but it was a Wednesday for us.”

Missouri reset its calendar when it arrived in Tempe, Ariz., as if it was any other game week, so the team is operating on a different schedule than the rest of the world.

“Christmas was almost nonexistent for me,” linebacker Will Ebner said. “We had fun. They kept us busy. With or without family, we had a good time.”

The players woke up early on Christmas day, but not to open presents. Instead they headed outside for a practice.

“I woke up and had to look at Michael Egnew,” wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said. “Then I had to go get taped, then had to go to practice. Right after practice Egnew and I went to sleep until six. So we spent Christmas sleeping.”

For Jackson, who is from Houston, Texas, it’s been a long year away from his family.

“You do really miss your family because I don’t see them all Thanksgiving, and then I don’t see them on Christmas, and it’s really something you really miss,” he said.

Regardless, Jackson said he was still happy to be away.

“I’d rather be here than at home thought,” he said. “Being here means you won. Being at home means you didn’t have too good of a season.”

Defensive back Kevin Rutland, who is also from Houston, Texas, was surprised when his mom, dad, brother and sister showed up at the team’s hotel on Christmas Eve.

“I thought my mother was coming by herself,” Rutland said. “I see her downstairs in the lobby and they each start popping out from behind poles at the hotel. So I had my whole family in town. It was great.”

Those who didn’t have their family in town, said being with their teammates made being away from home more comforting.

“It’s a lot different,” Gabbert said. “Of course, I like to be home with my family, my little brother and my golden retriever. But being here with my second family, these guys that I’ve lived with for the last three years, these guys are my family.”

Plus, Gabbert had his brother Tyler with him this year, which he said made Arizona feel a bit more like home.

“Having my brother on the team makes it like double family,” Gabbert said. “Having these guys here on Christmas and hanging out with these guys every day, it just shows you why you come to a football program like Missouri because these are your best friends.”

On Christmas night the team gathered together for a dinner before heading out to Dave & Busters and a movie.

“If you’re not gone on Christmas, you’re not doing your job,” Gabbert said. “You want to get as close to January 1 as possible, and you want to be going to a great place.”

There was one thing that put a smile on every player’s face despite being away from their families during the holiday.

“Any time we can get out of 10 degrees and snow and come to 75 and sunny we’ll do that,” Gabbert said.

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