Missouri football's Easterly dreams of a better Detroit

Friday, August 9, 2013 | 5:48 p.m. CDT; updated 7:37 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 26, 2013
The Missouri football team practiced Friday at the practice field behind Devine Pavilion in preparation for the 2013 season. The Tigers hope to best their 5-7 record from 2012's inaugural campaign in the Southeastern Conference.

COLUMBIA — Politicians and city officials have tried and failed to alleviate Detroit’s economic problems, but Daniel Easterly has a plan. And he's already working on it.

Missouri’s fourth-year defensive back is from Detroit’s west side. He used to dread catching the bus, fearing that he would be jumped. Most places he turned, there was the lingering expectation of failure.

Notes from Day 9

Five players were wearing red jerseys during Friday’s practice. Wide receiver Marcus Lucas (Hamstring), cornerback John Gibson (ankle), wide receiver Wesley Leftwich (hamstring), safety Matt White (groin), and wide receiver Jaleel Clark (knee) were all limited. Of the five, coach Gary Pinkel said Gibson is most likely to miss Saturday’s scrimmage, though all will be evaluated Friday afternoon.

Pinkel refused to show his hand in regard to how quarterback repetitions will be divided during the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday. When asked whether Maty Mauk would see time with the first team, Pinkel said, “Stay tuned.”

Missouri’s first scrimmage of the season will take place Saturday morning. Pinkel hopes to see his starters start to gel on the field.

“We want to see some continuity with our No. 1 offense and our No. 1 defense.”

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A city that once was one of America's finest has been crippled by deindustrialization, population decline and violent crime. Boulevards of broken dreams litter vacant downtown districts.

“There are a lot of different things that tear your city down,” Easterly said. “It’s heart-wrenching to sit there and think, ‘Your city where you grew up and did everything is nothing.’”

Easterly was perched on a stool at the 50-yard-line of Faurot Field. It was the football team’s Fan Day — Aug. 4 — and he had just posed for a picture with the well-known Golden Girls. He made it here with countless hours of hard work in the classroom and on the football field. But he was lucky too.

Lucky that he grew up with a dad who picked him up from football practice. Lucky that he attended Cass Technical High School, a public-education oasis in downtown Detroit. Lucky that he made it through those bus rides for 18 years.

“I tell people I’m from Detroit,” said Easterly, who then scrunches up his face into a familiar impression. “They’re like, ‘Oh you’re from Detroit? You don’t act like you’re from Detroit.’ People assume you are going to act a certain way.”

Perhaps the most fateful stroke of luck was the one that ignited his life’s passion and a future beacon of hope for Detroit's youth.

Easterly’s older brother was a starting cornerback at Indiana State, but he was also a 4.0 student and a computer wiz who taught his younger brother how to edit videos.

After a brief introduction to Windows Movie Maker, Easterly began creating a football highlight tape of his best plays. But that idea soon mushroomed into something bigger: highlight tapes for his friends, opponents and players he had never met before.

While Easterly cut more than 250 highlight tapes during high school, at $100 to $150 a pop, he was also playing games. So, he enlisted five friends to help him film on Friday nights.

Cody Tolbert, a high school teammate of Easterly, was one of the five. When Tolbert hurt his shoulder playing, Easterly asked him to start driving about town with a camera.

“Daniel always told me, ‘Be better than your situation,’” said Tolbert, who is serving at a Naval base in Connecticut. “Being hurt bummed me out. But being involved in the game and being able to film let me look at it from a different point of view. Daniel’s always been able to push me to do great things on and off the field.”

The highlight tapes opened doors for kids. Tolbert said he didn’t have a shot to play at a higher level until his tape persuaded the folks at Adrian College in Michigan to give him a partial scholarship. Easterly made a tape for current NFL player William Gholston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and several Division I athletes.

But now, Easterly is a long way from home. He is the only player from eastern Michigan on the roster, and he said he is the only student on the team working toward a communications degree.

He still gets emails to film games in Detroit, and he’ll ask a friend or two to take care of those jobs now and then, but business has been unofficially stalled while he is away at Missouri.

“It’s something that’s still going to get me there,” Easterly said. “But I don’t have the time because I’ve got to focus on football.”

The day Easterly graduates will be a good day for his city. He has big plans.

“The first step for me is going to a city where athletes need help,” Easterly said. “I want to go back to Detroit first and make a gym.”

That gym is part of a dream: to create a promotional service for local athletes who need highlight tapes and sport-specific training. His brother is a certified trainer. Easterly is an editing expert. There will always be a posse of supporters who will chip in what they can.

“It can change lives,” Tolbert said. “It gives the kids exposure that they normally wouldn’t get. Without Daniel’s help, nobody probably would have known I existed.”

The city of Detroit has lost more than 200,000 of its population in the past decade. But one son intends to return home to rebuild.

“I know how hard it is with all the odds against you, when people don’t think you can do it, and people don’t think you’re smart enough to do it,” Easterly said.

He chews his thoughts for a second, and then spits out the dream.

“I feel like the sky’s the limit for the kids in Detroit,” he said. “If you got all the right components and all the right people working toward the same goals, it would bless a lot of people's lives.”

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