Stephen Drain was a walk-on football player with a $50,000 academic scholarship to Baylor University — things many college students would dream of having.
But life at Baylor wasn’t a dream for Drain. He was far from home.
After high school, Drain had wanted to get away from his hometown in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He said it seemed like the right move at the time. But, the transition to college life in Texas wasn’t an easy one for Drain — on or off the field.
From a football standpoint, Drain felt he wasn’t ready.
“I went in with no knowledge of football,” Drain said by phone. He knew the game, but he didn’t understand it the way his Texas teammates did. Their upbringing in the intense culture of Texas high school football was drastically different than Drain’s experience in Illinois. He said his high school didn’t prepare him for what he saw in college.
Plus, the incoming freshman had become ill before he headed to Baylor, and he had lost 10 to 15 pounds. He showed up weighing just 205 pounds, and he was worried he would be outmatched by his new teammates.
“I told my dad, ‘I can’t do this. … Guys are going to throw me around like nothing.’ And they did for a little while,” Drain said.
But Drain matured. It’s a word he used over and over again when describing his time in Waco, Texas. He said that when you’re as far as he was from home — more than an 18-hour drive — you have to.
Drain recovered from his weight issue, gaining 40 pounds in a year. But his adjustment off the field required a different solution.
Being so far from home wasn’t easy. Drain made a lot of good friends at Baylor, and he called it the place “where I became a man.” But his independence was tested. He recalled Thanksgiving, when he sat alone in his apartment and made a chicken dinner.
The final straw came when his dad suffered a heart attack.
“It wasn’t serious, but it was enough to scare me,” Drain said.
So, on a drive home from Waco in 2010, Drain stopped in Columbia, where his younger brother was seeing about playing on the offensive line at Big 12 rival Missouri. Drain made a last-minute decision to transfer to Missouri, and the brothers played together during the 2010 season. He praised the family-like atmosphere of the MU Athletics Department, and he said that this time the transition was easy.
“The team here is very welcoming,” Drain said.
Drain, now a junior tight end for the Tigers, hasn’t seen much game action in his time at Missouri, though he said he has grown a lot. He spoke highly of his summer camp performance, which was highlighted by a 59-yard reception in one of the August scrimmages.
“I take it a little more seriously every year,” Drain said.
This weekend, Drain’s new teammates will be facing his old teammates when the Tigers travel to Waco. Drain said it will be weird to see the two squads squaring off.
“I know almost everybody that’s playing,” Drain said.
So, can Drain shed any light on the Bears?
He couldn’t comment too much on the individual tendencies of his old teammates, but he did have some words about the Baylor quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
“He’ll look like he’s going to throw a little lob pass, and then the ball will go 50 yards.”
Michael Egnew, the player at the top of the tight end depth chart, had nothing but good things to say about Drain.
“He’s a heck of a backup player,” Egnew said. “He’s always working well in the weight room. You always can hear him. He’s a good vocal leader."
Drain won’t be traveling to Waco with the Tigers this weekend, but he’s visited since transferring to Missouri. He’s looking forward to his two teams clashing Saturday.
“It’s going to be like a flashback," he said.