COLUMBIA — Eight-year-old Donovan Martin handed coach Gary Pinkel a football to sign and then quietly asked him for a picture. Pinkel stood up and gave Martin a little coachin'. Pinkel showed Martin the proper way to hold a football — tucked tightly under his arm, but not too tight — before the picture was snapped.
Martin walked away with a wide smile and said having Pinkel take the time to show him how to hold a football was "really cool."
Football fans dressed head to toe in black and gold took over the green turf at Faurot Field on Sunday afternoon during MU's 11th annual Football Fan Day. Fans started lining up outside the stadium gates around 2 p.m. to be the first to meet and get autographs from their favorite players and coaches.
To pass the time, some tossed footballs around with their friends and others visited the Tiger Team Store in front of the stadium to buy posters, helmets and other items for the players to sign.
April Summers, a senior at MU, stood in line carrying a large picture of fans rushing the field after Missouri upset Oklahoma in 2010 — her freshman year. Summers took the picture out of the frame and brought it to Fan Day to get players' signatures on the black matting.
“It’s kind of cool that athletes are open to signing and meeting the fans,” Summer said.
MU cheerleaders handed out maps to fans waiting in line that showed where the players would be on the field. It was cheerleader Sami Shyken’s second time at Fan Day, and she was looking forward to interacting with the fans.
“I like seeing how happy they are,” Shyken said. “A lot of girls like to take pictures with us and hold our poms.”
Jimmy Gorman traveled from Lake of the Ozarks with his wife, Sara, to take part in Fan Day for the fifth time. Gorman is hopeful about the upcoming season and was especially excited to see Henry Josey back after a 2011 injury.
“I’d like to shake his hand today for his commitment to keep going,” Gorman said. “We’ll get a bowl game this year, we just gotta stay healthy.”
The gates opened 15 minutes early and fans excitedly poured through. Barry O’Neill stood on the main level above the field looking through the sea of Missouri fans for his nephew, Brian Hollenbeck.
“They all look the same in black and gold,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill did not venture onto the packed field, but he happily watched the excitement from above, knowing that his nephew was being exposed to the Mizzou experience.
“His aunt graduated from the nursing school at Mizzou last year, and we’re hoping he follows her footsteps and comes to Mizzou,” O’Neill said.
Hollenbeck will be a freshman in high school this fall in Springfield. He was most excited meeting Pinkel, quarterback James Franklin and wide-receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Junior cornerback, Ernest Payton, stood on the 20-yard line with a smile, mingling with the crowd. A fan walked up to him with arm extended and sharpie in hand and gave Payton a poster to sign.
“It means everything,” Payton said about being a part of Fan Day. “It feels good to give back to the community.”
Payton is looking forward to the upcoming season and is most excited about winning some games.
“We need to step it up a little bit,” Payton said. “We’ve got the fans counting on us, so we need to perform.”
James Hutchings traveled two hours from Liberty with his three grandchildren to take part in the event that has become a family tradition.
“Oh, we come out every year,” Hutchings said. “We never miss any of these.”
Hutchings owns a barbershop in Liberty called Jim’s Barbershop. He said the walls of the shop are filled with Mizzou posters, T-shirts and other memorabilia, which has prompted his customers to start calling it “MU West.”
He has had season tickets for five years and makes the trip to Columbia for every home game. He likes to take turns bringing his grandchildren to the games with him to tailgate and enjoy the experience together.
“Thank you so much for taking to the time to do this,” Hutchings told the players as he laid a poster on a table for them to sign.
Scott Orscheln, associate athletic director for marketing, estimated about 5,000 people would show up for this year's Football Fan Day.
Renovations to Memorial Stadium are well underway, with The rock M hill closer to the field and the scaffolding removed from the stadium's west tower.
“As far as stuff that’s going to be finished this year, we’re on schedule to be finished by the 31st,” Orscheln said of the ongoing construction.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.