SHREVEPORT, La. — After three days of light-hearted, fun-filled activities, Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel and his team have officially set their game face.
Since arriving Dec. 25 in Shreveport, La,, where Missouri will face South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Tigers players have enjoyed the sights, sounds, and tastes of Southern culture.
The nature of Wednesday’s activities, however, symbolized the level of focus that Pinkel is hoping his team has begun to reach. Missouri and South Carolina closed their practices to the media, and Missouri declined to allow players or coaches to speak with members of the media.
“We want them to have a good time,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Tuesday. “They just have to focus up as the game gets closer. And they’re looking forward to (the game), too.”
The team spent Wednesday morning at Barksdale Air Force Base, arriving by police escort and spending time touring the facility and talking with military personnel stationed at the base. But in the afternoon, the team turned its attention to Friday’s game. Missouri held an hour-and-a-half practice at Independence Stadium, the first closed practice since the team arrived in Shreveport, and the team’s last scheduled practice before Friday’s game.
Before Wednesday’s shift, the team enjoyed a number of activities aimed at acquainting the city with Missouri football. On Monday, Pinkel and seven players, including senior captains Brad Smith, Tony Palmer, and Derrick Ming and junior Brad Ekwerekwu, visited patients at the Hal Sutton Children’s Hospital. The same day, Missouri also held it’s “Futures Bowl”, a scrimmage involving first-year or redshirt players that hinted at the future of Tigers football, while providing much entertainment for the upperclassmen.
Players also enjoyed a number of bowl week perks. As part of the gift basket provided by Independence Bowl officials, players received $220 gift certificated to Circuit City, a commemorative helmet, a bowl ring, a Fossil watch, and a Swiss Army backpack, among other things. According to NCAA rules, players may receive up to $500 worth of gifts.
But with a sour taste left in the mouth of many players after 2003’s 27-14 loss to
Arkansas in the Independence Bowl, many players are perfectly comfortable with focusing their collective energy into earning Missouri its first bowl trophy since the Tigers beat West Virginia 34-31 in the 1998 Insight.com Bowl.
Many of the team’s veterans, including Smith, an all-Big 12 first team selection this season, have taken it upon themselves to lead some of the younger players in the first postseason action of their careers.
“I just try to lead by example, that’s the only way I know how,” Smith said. “I’m trying to come out and play fast, make great decisions, and be focused. The best way to lead guys is to show them that you’re focused, and get them to jump on your back.”
Since the Independence Bowl is held on Friday instead of college football’s traditional Saturday, Pinkel altered the team’s practices this week, moving each day’s normal game week practices up a day.
“This is our Wednesday practice,” Pinkel said Tuesday. “This is what we do normally on a Wednesday before a game. We wanted to get a normal game week preparation. We had good work. We’ve just locked right into our game week. For a Wednesday practice, we’re doing all the right things.”
Today marks the final day of preparations before Friday’s kickoff at Independence Stadium, and both teams have little planned in the way of practice. Missouri does not have a practice scheduled, and the Gamecocks have planned a walk-through.