COLUMBIA — The parade starts shortly after 1:15 p.m.
In a long, single-file line, NFL scouts and Missouri coaches stream out of the side door of the Missouri Athletic Training Complex and into the Devine Practice Facility less than 10 steps away. Patriots, Rams, Chiefs, Packers, Seahawks, Steelers, 49ers — the logos are all there, printed on polo shirts and athletic caps of various trailing scouts.
The players are here, too, some accompanied by family members giving last-minute encouragement, others with heads down, focused. Thursday is the Missouri football team's pro day.
Elvis Fisher plods along, his feet splashing through a puddle of melted snow. A scout approaches him, putting his arm around Fisher's broad shoulders and inquiring about his ankle.
"It frickin' hurt at the end of the season," Fisher says, shrugging off the most recent in a long list of injuries. They continue to talk after yanking open the pavilion's double doors.
Sheldon Richardson's entrance can be both seen and heard, as the thump-thump-thump of his iPod escapes out of his ear buds and fills the open air. Many of these scouts are here to see him; some of the fans are, too. As the thick defensive tackle enters, it seems appropriate that a soundtrack follows him as he goes.
It's a 40-yard spectacle.
Along the sideline of the turf field inside Devine Practice Facility, two gold bleachers face each other, separated only by a narrow path of orange cones. Scouts fill each of the bleachers' seats, clutching timers in one hand and notebooks in the other. Still others crowd around them, standing and waiting in the open space.
In the distance, fans, family and spectators are barricaded behind a temporary white fence, looking on with cameras at the ready. As a player approaches the starting line, the hip hop music blaring out of overhead speakers cuts out, leaving only a mixed chatter of whispers and clicks.
Then, the voice.
Kip ... Edwards.
The name is announced loudly, clearly, slowly. Missouri's senior defensive back crouches low, and pauses. The crowd noise goes away. The camera clicks intensify, enough so that if you close your eyes it almost sounds like crickets on a summer night.
Then, without warning, he bolts.
The routine is repeated, over and over, with a different runner every time. Kendial Lawrence blazes past the scouts, his neon yellow socks a bright blur against the dark green backdrop.
Richardson chugs along, a massive vehicle of swinging arms and sweat — lots of sweat, drenched down the back of his tight Under Armor shirt.
Rolandis Woodland, Jared McGriff-Culver, Fisher and T.J. Moe — they all run, they all stop, they all wonder about their times.
For 20 minutes, those 40 yards are all anybody sees. The bleachers face them, the fans gravitate to them and the players holler as their teammate blazes past the cones.
Then it's over, and the timers stop.
Tonia Gooden can't bear to watch.
Wearing a black jersey displaying the No. 25, her son's number, Gooden steps off of the bleachers and walks quickly towards the nearest exit. She climbs a stairwell just outside the turf field, stopping to take a few minutes in the darkness to breathe, and cry.
Down those steps, on that field, her son is proving himself yet again. Zaviar Gooden already turned heads at the NFL Combine, running the fastest 40-yard dash of all participating linebackers.
Today, he jumps higher than anybody, causing a surprised crowd to "ooh" and "ahh" and ask their friends if they saw it. He backpedals quickly, darting towards footballs and snatching them out of the air in one fluid motion.
In a gray tank top that seems to be struggling to contain his massive chest, the sculpted Zaviar Gooden runs, then stops, then runs again.
After taking a few more deep breaths, Tonia Gooden composes herself and walks back down the steps, rejoining the mass of people excitedly watching her son. A woman nearby asks her if she's all right.
"I'm just nervous," she responds quietly.
As the various exercises wind down, the pro day's participants slowly head towards the exits, where they meet reporters, and voice recorders, and still more cameras.
Richardson arrives late, and as he approaches the crowd swarms him like zombies on a victim.
The recorders poked firmly in his direction, he smiles and soaks it up. Richardson, these reporters know, has never avoided the attention. The lights reflect off his forehead, which is still glistening with sweat from the day's drills.
When he's asked which NFL teams have expressed interest in him, Richardson doesn't hesitate. He smiles again, knowing his answer.
"The whole NFL wants Sheldon Richardson," he says.
The crowd is nearly all gone now, the drills completed, the show over. Ray and Tonia Gooden linger, waiting to take a few celebratory pictures with their son.
In the middle of the field, quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey remain, sitting leisurely on the large Tiger painted on the turf. They talk casually, Franklin lying back as if he's lounging on a faraway beach. Josey chomps on an apple, and they laugh.
In front of them in the distance, a series of banners hang side-by-side from the pavilion's ceiling. Each has printed on it a picture, and a name.
Smith. Smith. Hood. Daniel.
The NFL is above them, hanging from the rafters. It's also behind them — Richardson and Gooden — walking out the door.
For Franklin and Josey, though, all that will have to wait.