Darius Outlaw has made some mistakes and gone through some hard times, but he doesn’t have any regrets. Just ask him, and he will gladly tell you all about it.
Outlaw has become the unofficial spokesman of Missouri football, always ready to talk to whoever will listen. As the joke goes among the media, no one has to request an interview with Outlaw; he will stop and talk no matter what.
It’s that friendliness and Outlaw’s zest for life that makes him a favorite among teammates, coaches and media. His raw athletic ability makes him a fan favorite, too.
Less than a year ago, though, no one knew if Outlaw would play this season.
Outlaw was a partial qualifier, meaning he needed to sit out his freshman season and earn the year of eligibility back by completing 75 percent of the requirements for graduation by May. It wasn’t easy, but Outlaw made it. Now, he’s the top receiver on a team with high expectations.
STUMBLING BLOCKSFootball has always come easily for Outlaw. School was a different story.
Outlaw played two seasons at quarterback for the Tigers, one each under coach Gary Pinkel and former coach Larry Smith. He did well enough, playing in 20 games and starting nine. Off the field, all was not well. Outlaw did not enroll in classes at MU during the winter of 2002 and was declared academically ineligible. He took two classes in summer 2002 and regained his eligibility.
“I had to get my grades up; I had to get my hours up in the classroom,” Outlaw said. “I had to just bust my butt. I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m an A or B student in the classroom. I’m more of a C student. Football, I can get an A any day because I’m football smart. But book smart, I just had to bust my butt every day.”
Outlaw was far from earning an extra year, though, and Pinkel had announced that Outlaw would not return as a quarterback.
To gain his year back would mean more work in the classroom. To learn a new position and earn his spot with the Tigers back would mean more work on the practice field.
EN-GAGE-D BY A CHANGE
The Tigers had returning starter Kirk Farmer and redshirt freshmen Brad Smith and Sonny Riccio at quarterback when Outlaw returned. He would have to find a new position. Outlaw talked with Pinkel and it was decided that he would move to receiver.
Outlaw found inspiration in former Tiger Justin Gage, who was the No. 1 receiver on the team at the time and also was a converted quarterback.
“Watching Justin and the things he went through, they just changed him just like that,” Outlaw said. “Justin just went in and took full control of it. Now I got changed and I want to take full control of it.”
Outlaw certainly made the best of the switch. He started the season at the bottom of the depth chart, but wound up second on the team in receiving. He caught 46 passes for 552 yards. Only Gage was better, and Outlaw hopes to surpass his numbers this season.
“I want to take everything (Gage) did and run with it,” Outlaw said. “He caught 82 balls, I want to catch 83. He had 1,075 yards, I wanna catch 1,200 yards. I just want to do what he did, but better. If I do that, we’re bound to win a lot of games.”
FINISH LINE IN SIGHT
Outlaw almost wasn’t a part of this team, though. He was a lot of hours behind pace, so many he won’t say, and he had to make the hours up while learning a new position. It’s safe to say college was a rude awakening for Outlaw.
“You see movies and TV and you think, ‘In college, they’ll just pass me along, blah blah blah,”’ Outlaw said. “But then you think, ‘What if football isn’t there all your life?’ I sat down my second year and said, ‘Man, this might not be there forever. I better sit down, focus, get a degree.’”
Outlaw said his first two years under Larry Smith were “hell.” He focused only on football and got himself into a bad situation. It was all he could do to dig himself out.
“He’s a survivor,” receivers coach Andy Hill said. “When his back is against the wall is when he’s at his best. He’s been able to produce that. So far so good, and I hope he feels like his back is against the wall this year.”
Luckily for Outlaw, that is where he found himself last summer.
“I had to get it done,” Outlaw said. “Studying a lot of hours, tutors, whatever it took, man. I just did it.”
Smith is the starting quarterback and has made Outlaw his No. 1 target this summer. Smith said Outlaw at least gave the appearance of being completely devoted to football when in reality he was compelled to devote much of his time to schoolwork. Outlaw’s teammates didn’t notice the stress he was under.
“He never showed it,” Smith said. “He never showed anybody. He did what he had to do. He’s always excited and always trying to help other guys out. With Darius, you know he’s a great football player and he’s worked hard to get where he is.”
Outlaw said hard doesn’t do it justice. It’s no secret he almost gave up more than once.
“When I got switched, and when I got suspended from school, I kicked myself in the butt a couple of times,” Outlaw said. “I sat there thinking, ‘What are you doing?’ I managed to get myself together and everything’s going right. I’ve just got to finish.”
With the worst behind him, Outlaw is excited about this season. It’s Pinkel’s third season at Missouri, and expectations are high. If the Tigers are going to live up to them, Outlaw will have to play a big part.
“He’s been through a lot,” Pinkel said. “I’m certainly proud of him. He showed a lot of perseverance and enthusiasm. Now I want him to be a great player this year, win a lot of games, and then graduate. I think that would work out good.”
Indeed. And after that?
Outlaw said he hopes to earn a degree in general studies with an emphasis in education. He wants to teach and coach.
“At the same time, though,” Outlaw said. “I wouldn’t mind sitting on TV doing some sports stuff.”
If there’s anything Outlaw likes to do, it’s talk. A camera shouldn’t deter him.
DOAK WALKER AWARD: Senior tailback Zack Abron is a Doak Walker Award candidate as the nation’s top running back.
Abron has rushed for 2,043 yards at MU and needs 984 to become the Tigers’ career leader. He also is 61 points away from becoming the career leader in points. Corby Jones leads with 228.
The winner will be announced Dec. 11.