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Missouri football team's practice grind put into perspective by Marine

Thursday, August 11, 2011 | 9:39 p.m. CDT; updated 12:49 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 12, 2011
Marine Maj. Sean Quinlan, right, poses with 1st Lt. Mark Gelina at a patrol base in Rawah, Iraq. Gelina, from Moberly, was killed in fighting there in November of 2006.

COLUMBIA — Perspective. It's not necessarily something that Missouri football players have a week into preseason camp. 

The early mornings. The stiff joints. The pressure to perform and to learn quickly. The initial promise tainted by inevitable discouragement. The conflict between team-building and depth charts.

When the Missouri football players walked into the conference room at the athletic complex Wednesday evening, perhaps they needed to hear about putting it all into perspective.

Dominique Hamilton had an idea of what was coming in a motivational talk from Maj. Sean Quinlan of the Marine Corps. The defensive lineman was raised by a military man after all.

Hamilton expected principles of leadership and teamwork. Reminders for the weary players to stay focused on a goal. Words that rang true but didn't necessarily reverberate. Sometimes, perspective needs more than words.

Quinlan delivered. When he finished more than a half hour later, Hamilton was "getting emotional."

"It was a hell of a talk," Hamilton said. "I grew up a military kid, so I thrive on stuff like that. It was touching. He took over the whole room, all eyes on him. He gave the best speech I've heard."

Perspective came into focus quickly. The Tigers heard about a marine shot seven times before he finally jumped on a grenade to save his troops. They heard about men their age, 18 to 24, shooting to kill and getting shot at.

"I'm tired, but you hear things like that and you really can't complain," free safety Kenji Jackson said. "It's a blessing to come out here with these practice uniforms on."

Quinlan, 48, is the commanding officer of all recruits in a 160,000-square-mile area that includes all of Iowa, most of Nebraska and parts of South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

A former baseball player who pitched for Grand Valley State University in the 1985 Division II NCAA championship, Quinlan titled his master's thesis in military studies "The Art of Team Building: Reflections of a Commander, 200 Days in Rawah, Iraq."

Quinlan earned a Bronze Star for his bravery as a commanding officer in Rawah. It was there in November 2006 one of his soldiers, Mark Gelina of Moberly, was killed.

Gelina, a Missouri graduate, left behind three children with his wife, Stacey Gelina, as well as a stepson. Mark Gelina and his son Nick, now a sixth-grader at Moberly Middle School, shared a passion for Missouri football. On a trip from St. Louis back to Iowa last fall, Quinlan stopped in Columbia and, with the help of the football staff, arranged for the Gelinas to attend the Missouri-Kansas State game on Nov. 13 last year. 

Quinlan asked director of football operations Dan Hopkins if, in return for hosting the Gelinas, he could address the team in the future.

Hopkins, who is in charge of scheduling speakers for the Tigers, discussed principles of leadership and teamwork with Quinlan. He liked what he heard.

"Through our interactions with Maj. Quinlan, we knew he would do a good job and be someone who'd convey a message we wanted our players to hear," Hopkins said.

Wednesday at 6:15 p.m., Quinlan delivered his message. He spoke of his unit's slogan: Team Team Damn Team, which demands troops to put their individual needs "on the back burner," and said many of his best troops have been former football players because of their passion to succeed not only as individuals but as a group.

He also talked about the similarities between the Marines and the Missouri football team, emphasizing tradition.

"There's a reason the Marine Corps have been around 235 years and Missouri football has been around since 1890," he said.

Quinlan drew another parallel, too.

"We play a violent game as U.S. Marines," he said. "They play a violent game in football."

But Quinlan also pointed out he's lost hundreds of soldiers in Afghanistan this year. They fought for the freedom these college athletes enjoy.

Left tackle and captain Elvis Fisher has heard his share of motivational speeches. Some others have been good — he recalls a former gang member who talked to the team a few years ago. Others haven't.

The way the team responded to Quinlan was something Fisher hadn't seen before.

"Everyone was on the edge of their seats paying attention," Fisher said. "He spoke with a presence ... he told us how it is. It was very eye-opening and humbling."

Jackson, also adjusting to his responsibilities as a team captain, said he needed to hear Quinlan's words on self-sacrifice as leadership.

"He said, 'Being a leader is not about yourself, it's about serving others,'" Jackson said. "No matter how good or bad I feel about (his performance), I have to provide leadership every day because people want to hear my voice."

Jackson said he thought the defense came out "with a little bit more fire" on Thursday. It went along with what Hamilton said about perspective.

"In the back of our minds we know stuff like that," Hamilton said. "But it's good to be reminded."


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