COLUMBIA — You might be able to hear Sean Weatherspoon if you drive past the MU football practice fields on Stadium Boulevard. When wide receiver Greg Bracey starts to sing while the team is stretching, he doesn’t tell Bracey to shut up. He pipes in as well.
The 6-foot-1,230-pound linebacker likes noise. He always waves his arms in the air to pump up his teammates and incite the crowd at Faurot Field during key third and fourth downs. “I’m always gonna be that guy to let them know that this is it,” he said.
It’s an attitude the starting weakside linebacker has carried to the field since he started playing in Jasper, Texas. And after coming across an auspicious sign that made him decide to play here, the sophomore is now emerging as one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 Conference while staying connected to the coach who instilled that attitude along the way.
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“Be yourself and have fun. That’s all you got to worry about,” Weatherspoon always heard from Eric Farrar, the former defensive coordinator at Jasper High School. The precocious athlete was all over the field for Jasper, which Farrar coined as “prowling around.” By pouncing during key plays, Weatherspoon led the team all the way to the Class 3A Division II state finals in his junior year.
On a warm December day in College Station, Texas, Liberty Hill had one last chance to even the score against Jasper. Down 35-27, Liberty Hill had driven 66 yards to Jasper’s 1-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. A timeout was called, and Weatherspoon and his teammates met Farrar at the sideline. The trainers started to bring water to the tiring defenders, but they were rebuffed.
“We don’t need any water,” Weatherspoon said. “What do you want to run, Coach?”
The defenders perked up as Farrar gave his instructions. The coach guessed that Liberty Hill quarterback Dexter Hanson would run the ball since he had already picked up several key first downs on the drive. Farrar asked his star linebacker to charge into the space he believed fullback Ryan Lawhorn would try to clear for the quarterback.
Farrar was right. With the crowd roaring, Hanson tried to follow Lawhorn, but someone was waiting for them. Weatherspoon knocked the fullback into Hanson, forcing a fumble and sending the Bulldogs to the state championship game.
Weatherspoon performed other athletic feats at Jasper. He cleared heights as tall as Tracy McGrady (6 feet, 8 inches) as an All-State high jumper. He was a guard on the basketball team. And he also caught touchdown passes from his current MU teammate, safety Gilbert Moye.
His ability as a receiver jumped out at MU defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who was recruiting Weatherspoon as a linebacker. With time to kill in Jasper before visiting the linebacker’s family, Eberflus asked to watch all of Jasper’s game tape. He had already eyed Weatherspoon on defense, but once he saw him making athletic catches, he thought, “Good God, I got something here.”
Along with his concerted effort, Eberflus can thank Kansas and a piece of MU sportswear for Weatherspoon’s decision to come to Columbia. To show their strong interest, Eberflus and fellow coaches each made the long trip to Jasper, a small town of 7,645 located more than 130 miles northeast of Houston. They had competition. Weatherspoon originally made a weak verbal commitment to the University of Houston, but after Kansas defeated the Cougars 42-13 in the Fort Worth Bowl, he backed out. Soon after, he made a fateful trip to the mall.
While shopping at a sporting goods store, Weatherspoon spotted a lone MU sweatshirt hanging on the rack. He was freaked out. “Damn, it must be a sign from God,” he thought.
He called Eberflus right away and committed to MU.
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Weatherspoon is now “prowling around” as a Tiger. In his first season starting, he leads the team in tackles and ranks third in the Big 12 in that category.
Weatherspoon admitted he was nervous in the opener against Illinois, but he has improved and become more relaxed since then. He’s bending his knees more and honing his tackling technique, Eberflus said. The coaches expect him to continue his progress.
“He’s a great kid. We got the full package there, and the more experience he gets, the more people will certainly recognize him,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Farrar has noted Weatherspoon’s improvement as well, but the coach also notices the linebacker’s still heeding his advice by having fun. The two remain in touch. They send each other text messages before and after every MU game.
Their bond transcends the sport. Weatherspoon helped Farrar and his family move several times within Jasper. But he didn’t just help his coaches. If any of his teammates needed a ride home, Weatherspoon was one of the first to offer.
If you call Farrar, he has plenty to say about one of his favorite players.
“I could probably talk all night about the kid,” Farrar said.
That love is mutual. The coach shared his sentiments with his players at Jasper, and they responded in kind. But he sensed something special with Weatherspoon.
“You tell every kid that you love him, just like your own kids at the house,” Farrar said, “but you knew whenever (Weatherspoon) said it back to you that he really meant it.”
DANIEL NAMED SEMIFINALIST FOR NATIONAL AWARD: Quarterback Chase Daniel has been named one of the 15 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, the Davey O’Brien Foundation said Tuesday. The award is given to the nation’s top quarterback every year. The selection committee will vote for the three finalists Nov. 18, and the winner will be announced Dec. 6 on ESPN.