Missouri football players keep town of Ferguson in mind

Thursday, August 14, 2014 | 6:51 p.m. CDT; updated 6:20 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Aarion Penton just wants to stay atop the "juice board."

The cornerback in line to start for Missouri in his sophomore season just wants to keep performing in practices to the point where coaches keep his name above fellow defensive backs on the team's grading scale.

But he can't help but think of home.

"My family lives in Ferguson-Florissant," he said, sweat-drenched after Thursday's practice. "But, I mean, I'm just happy that they're staying in, trying to keep away from it, just doing what they do."

Penton said he has called every day this week to check in with his parents, Kimberly and George, as they go about their lives in a town consumed by unrest. Since the Saturday afternoon fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, protests  have raged in the north St. Louis suburb.

Penton has only heard from his parents that they, along with his 4-year-old brother, are OK.

"They’ve just been going to work," he said. "When they're not working, making money, they're back at home, making sure the family’s safe. They're doing good so far."

Like Penton, linebacker Eric Beisel can't keep his mind off Ferguson. 

The redshirt freshman has lived his whole life in Fenton, a suburb in the southwest portion of St. Louis County that is, according to census data, predominantly white. But his high school bused students from Ferguson and throughout north St. Louis County. He counts many of those students as his friends. Some of them were his teammates. 

"I got friends up there in that area and am just wishing them the best of luck," Beisel said, adding he has been texting them throughout the week. 

Denzel Martin, a senior linebacker, said he grew up all over the St. Louis area but now lives about 10 miles from the site where Brown was shot. An African-American who attended the predominantly white private high school Chaminade College Preparatory School, Martin doesn't think many in the St. Louis region understand the racial divide in cities like Ferguson. 

"That's the crazy part about it all," Martin said. "They probably don't understand the grievances living in that area, so it's kind of crazy to see it all uprooted and messy."

Martin said he believes the road where the protests have occurred, West Florissant Avenue, is a "family area." He's familiar with the shops that were looted along the street. The images Martin has seen of Ferguson since Saturday are not of the Ferguson he knows.  

"From what I thought, it was a very safe area, but I guess any area can turn up in any sort of way," Martin said. 

Penton is waiting for his hometown to return to normal. In the meantime, he is maintaining his own form of normalcy miles away.

"I'm just thanking God that I'm here," he said. "I'm staying out of trouble and focusing on the right things, and that’s coming out and getting our team better as a whole."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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