• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

QB Drew Lock's leadership amid racial unrest at Missouri helped make him NFL ready

Terez Paylor
·Senior NFL writer
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The son of a former Missouri Tiger, Drew Lock grew up wanting to wear the black and gold, so much so that when he developed into a four-star prep quarterback at Lee’s Summit High, he spurned the likes of blue-bloods like Ohio State and Texas to attend his home-state school in 2015.

Little did Lock know that he would be thrown into the fire for the biggest challenge of his young life as a true 18-year-old freshman.

“That six- or eight-week period [that year], it probably would have broken a lot of kids that age,” Lock’s father, Andy, told Yahoo Sports at his son’s pro day on Thursday. “It was either going to break him or make him, one or the other … And looking back on it today, it made him.”

It played a significant role in helping Drew earn the type of respect from his college teammates that has NFL teams intrigued heading into the 2019 NFL draft.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 31: Drew Lock #3 of the Missouri Tigers reacts during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on December 31, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Missouri QB Drew Lock is in the running to be a first-round NFL draft pick. (Getty Images)

“Physically, he has a lot to like ... an impressive combination of size, underrated mobility and a live arm,” one NFL evaluator told Yahoo Sports.

But it goes beyond physical traits, the evaluator added, noting that he likes the fact Lock “was a four-year starter in the SEC and proved he could handle adversity.”

“Kid truly loves the game and carries himself much different than others,” another evaluator said. “He’s got a cool, calm and collected demeanor, and the AAU ball he played [basketball] growing up really helped him relate with different cultures. I think guys will naturally gravitate to him at the next level.”

A challenging, unexpected season

Andy’s son wasn’t supposed to have his grit tested so early. Drew was initially expected to backup Maty Mauk, one of nine returning offensive starters from a team that was coming off back-to-back appearances in the SEC championship game. And things started well enough, as Mauk led the Tigers to a 3-1 start in the 2015 season.

But when Mauk was suspended indefinitely before the Tigers’ fifth game of the season, the Tigers entrusted the quarterback position to Lock, who won his first start but promptly lost his next four in the heart of the Tigers’ SEC slate.

Lock struggled during that stretch, completing only 41 percent of his passes to go with four interceptions and zero touchdowns. And while the guilt of his struggles was personally devastating, things in Columbia got more complicated when several football players threatened to boycott all football-related activities until the school’s president resigned.

Many of the team’s African-American players joined an ongoing campus protest of the school administration’s handling of several racial issues on campus. This brought national attention to the cause, and eventually led to the president resigning. It came at a cost as the threatened boycott angered some fans.

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015, file photo, graduate student Jonathan Butler, center, addresses a crowd following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign, in Columbia, Mo. On the day he met with black players for the University of Missouri’s football team, Butler hadn’t eaten for six days. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
In 2015, graduate student Jonathan Butler (middle) addresses a crowd following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign. (AP)

“[The situation] sucked,” senior guard Kevin Pendleton said. “We were losing games and the protests happened ... so our fan base, it kind of shredded. So we weren’t getting the same support and we were losing, so it was just the perfect storm of bad stuff.

“But the way [Lock] held his chin high, the way he continued to take the lumps and just learn and grow ... he never quit on anybody.”

As the team’s starting quarterback, Lock, who was only a few months out of high school, had to face the media after the losses and navigate the politics of a struggling team in the midst of a swirling controversy. Handle it wrong, and Lock could have lost the locker room.

Instead ...

“Drew handled it like a boss,” senior receiver Cam Hilton said. “Drew handles everything like a boss.

How Lock navigated the protest

Lock immediately let his teammates know he supported their cause, and that he stood with them.

“He had everybody’s back — he was one of the first guys to reach out to everybody [involved with the protests] and say, ‘Hey, what are we doing?” Pendleton said. “It was always ‘we.’ It wasn’t, ‘What are y’all doing?’ And so that, really, took the locker room by storm, especially the older guys. They just became closer after that. That was huge.”

Andy remembers watching all of this happen over the six-week period — the losing, the furor over the protests — and wanting to advise his son on how to handle it all. He was amazed at how little help Drew needed.

“He was pretty convicted in the decisions he was making,” Andy said. “There wasn’t a lot of, ‘Hey Dad, what do I do, how do I deal with this?’ He said, ‘These are my boys, these are my teammates and I’m gonna stick to it and have their backs,’ and he did.”

Shortly after a few of his teammates announced their boycott, the entire team posed together for a picture showing unity for the cause. Drew was in that photo, and he insists he was ready to join his teammates if they wanted to go through with sitting out the game against BYU.

The boycott never happened as the university had a change in senior leadership. Since then, the school has reaffirmed its commitment to diversity, and faculty diversity has increased but only slightly, according to the Columbia Missourian, the city’s daily newspaper managed by the Missouri School of Journalism.

With the added element of their longtime coach’s sudden decision to retire — Gary Pinkel announced he would leave at the end of the season due to lymphoma — Drew knew the Tigers badly needed a program-unifying win against BYU, which he helped deliver by completing 19 of 28 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown in a 20-16 victory.

“It wasn’t necessarily my team yet, and there were a lot of older guys and I let them do their thing,” Lock said. “But when we got into that week, I felt like it was extremely important that we win that game. There was a job to get done and that was our No. 1 goal, to win that game for this place and Coach Pinkel.”

The Tigers finished that season 5-7. The next year, Lock was named a team captain for the first of three consecutive years. Since then, the 6-foot-4, 228-pound senior has blossomed into a likely first-round NFL draft pick, throwing 95 touchdowns to 31 interceptions as one of the unquestioned leaders of a team that has posted winning seasons and bowl appearances the past two years.

NFL teams often ask Lock about how he handled that difficult 2015 season, and how he used it to earn his teammates’ respect.

“Obviously, it was not the best freshman year you could write up for him,” senior tackle Paul Adams said. “It was something that not too many people would ever want to go through. But it helped him grow and gave him the personality he has, because he’s been through the toughest of tough and helped him grow up a lot.”

Where will Lock land in NFL draft?

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who attended Lock’s pro day, says the fact that Lock is a battle-tested, multiyear starter might make for an interesting contrast to the two other top quarterbacks in this draft, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.

“He’s got a big personality, he can kind of fill up a room when he comes in, and it’s interesting comparing him with [Kyler] Murray and [Dwayne] Haskins,” Jeremiah said. “Those guys both replaced long-term starting quarterbacks and had to assume a leadership role in one year, but Drew’s been the leader of this football team for a long time. He went through all the stuff they had on campus early on, so he’s very comfortable in that role while I think the other two are kind of learning and growing and developing into that.”

Jeremiah said slotting Lock, Haskins and Murray will come down to talent, with intangibles — like Lock’s experience — likely serving as a tiebreaker of sorts. At the moment, Jeremiah sees Murray going No. 1 overall to Arizona with Lock and Haskins falling somewhere in the top 15.

“I think it’s a legit competition between him and Haskins [for No. 2],” Jeremiah said. “I talked to some teams today that preferred Lock over Haskins. I heard from some teams that had it the other way. So I think that’s gonna be interesting.”

Lock has met with or will formally meet with Denver, Washington, Miami and Jacksonville, a source told Yahoo Sports. Given the rave reviews his teammates have bestowed upon his personality, Lock likely didn’t or won’t have problems with those teams.

“Drew kicks it with anybody — he’s a diverse person, he gets in where he fits in,” Hilton said. “Like, one minute he’ll be listening to some country music, then we’ll come around and listen to [rapper] Chief Keef. He’s like a chameleon — he can be around anybody.”

And with his four-year collegiate journey complete, Lock can appreciate how his rocky true freshman year in 2015 helped shape his tenure and perception at Missouri.

“We had some tough times, but it made the good times so much better,” Drew said. “In the end, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

More from Yahoo Sports: