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Fan Day with dad part of finding footing for recent military veteran

Sunday, August 7, 2011 | 9:36 p.m. CDT; updated 1:51 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 8, 2011
Fans wait in line to meet MU football players at the ninth annual Fan Day at Faurot Field. Hundreds of fans of all ages braved the heat and humidity to attend the event.

COLUMBIA—Josh Ferris has hunted pirates and water-tubed in the Red Sea. He served for the Navy in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Haiti after the 2010 earthquakes.

In the minutes leading up to the Missouri football team's Fan Day on Sunday, the 27-year-old native of Tonganoxie, Kan., isn't exactly pushing for the front of the line outside Memorial Stadium.

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"I kind of got dragged along," Ferris said. "Getting autographs really isn't my thing."

He stands alone, wearing a blue sleeveless shirt in a crowd of black and gold, and sports what looks like a week-old beard. He is waiting for his dad, who's inside the merchandise store.

He's a Missouri football fan, don't get him wrong. Always has rooted for the Tigers, just like his dad, Bryce Ferris. They're living together now, about four months after Josh Ferris decided not to reenlist following eight years in the military.

He wanted to settle down. Maybe start a family. The Navy is great for guys who want to stay single, but he sees everyone who he graduated high school with already married, some even with kids. He's getting close to 30.

"It got me thinking," Josh Ferris said.

His mind still seems to be elsewhere, even though at the moment he's here in Columbia with his dad and some family friends. Yet, coming to Fan Day seems to be a part of his return to civilian life. Maybe the Tigers have something to do with staying put for a while.

Bryce Ferris, 52, walks over. He's retired from his job as a military prison guard in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but he grew up in Kansas City, and lately he's been thinking, too — about his childhood there. He's not sure people feel the same now, but growing up there was a lot of pride in what side of the border you were from.

"I'm getting ready to move back to the Missouri side," Bryce Ferris said. "As I'm getting older now, it's like home is calling me."

He moves his open hand in a circle, beckoning. "Just come back home."

Bryce Ferris tried rooting for Kansas State, Kansas, and Missouri when he first went to Fort Leavenworth. They made him choose one. To this day, when he tells people he's a Missouri fan, "My God," they're just all over him.

There's more Missouri fans than you would expect, Bryce Ferris says. In Tonganoxie alone, 20 of them meet at a friend's house to watch the season opener. His friend comes to Fan Day every year. This is Bryce Ferris' second time here. It's his son's first.

Maybe coming to things like Fan Day with Dad is part of settling down. But living with Dad? What's that?

Josh Ferris was tired of all the travel, all the running around. But he didn't realize how difficult it would be to get a job. Nobody wants to hire a person his age. He figured he would work at a restaurant or gas station to start while looking for something better, like construction. But that hasn't worked out.

"They either want some kid in high school who they can throw whatever chump change they want at him, and the kid will be happy, or ... the older crowd, because they want someone more long-term," he said.

He doesn't want to go back to school. He wouldn't know where to begin, choosing a major and whatnot. His dad wants him to use the GI Bill, which pays full tuition for in-state public schools and gives an additional $673.50 housing allowance. But the son seems to think Missouri, where he would really want to go, is out of the bill's range.

Even so, he might have to look into it.

"That'd be my best option instead of taking up space in my dad's house," he said.

Bryce Ferris asks if his son has mentioned the pirate hunting. He reluctantly summarizes it: They would chase the pirates down, who knows where, and lead them back to a prison area, where they'd be isolated. There were no fire fights — those pirates see the big Navy ships, and they lay down. They're used to robbing people's sailboats.

He shrugs. It's nothing awesome or worth bragging about. His dad disagrees. 

"I thought it was pretty cool, myself," Bryce Ferris said. "Now can you imagine remembering this with his grandchildren?"

He assumes his son's modest tone.

"'Yeah ... I went pirate hunting.'"

The father leaves to get in line outside Gate No. 1. The crowd is growing. The gates are about to open, and the finely formed line will fall apart as everyone rushes forward, fixed on getting T.J. Moe's signature on the Tigers-emblazoned football they just bought or a picture with Gary Pinkel.

But for a moment longer, Josh Ferris reminisces. He might not like to talk about pirate hunting, but the water tubing? Now that was a lot of fun. He and a few chosen lucky others would attach a big ole inner tube to a small motor boat, which dragged the tube around in circles.

"The captain of our ship was really cool, really down to earth," he says. "He had a group put together and would randomly select people from different divisions. I managed to be one of them that got picked."

After he goes over everywhere he's been, he pauses and slightly shakes his head.

"It really blew my mind, all of that in eight years."

He came home to settle down, but right now there's no one to settle down with. Long distance relationships during all of that? Oh, no.

He doesn't mention it, but the past four months apparently haven't been any easier finding a girl than finding a job.

Now he seems to come to his senses. He's talking about all this outside Memorial Stadium, home of the Missouri Tigers football team. He exhales.

He doesn't mean to be rude, but he's got to go. It was nice chatting, he says. Then Josh Ferris walks back to his dad. In a few minutes they're on Faurot Field waiting in line for autographs.


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