On the 18th day of fall camp, the natural grass on the Kadlec Field’s sideline provided little cushion and the heat was pouring in harshly. But T.J. Moe sat there anyway. James Franklin was beside him.
Moe, with a tone the whole nation now knows as cool and equable, and Franklin, the junior quarterback with a smile that widens at the things his senior receiver says, will be tasked to solve Southeastern Conference defenses soon.
Moe’s asked about the SEC again.
At the league media days near the end of July, the senior receiver became the media darling when asked about a similar topic (“They say the girls are prettier, the air’s fresher and the toilet paper is thicker").
He puts it plainly again.
“You can’t play your best until you’re competent and confident,” he said. “That’s the two things. … I think we got the confidence to come out and do our best. We just got to come out and execute.”
This was Wednesday. Soon it would be Saturday and Missouri would be in the belly of regular season preparation for the beast. Throughout August, reporters have watched the same black and white jerseys, the same offense and the same defense clash, and they have tried to speculate:
What could this team be in the land’s mightiest conference?
Just like the camp’s first day, the SEC emblem and the bold word of “RESPECT” were on the back of Gary Pinkel’s white T-shirt. He paced the practice fields as his analysis continued. The ink from his pen on the papers he kept rolled in his clutch would transcribe his watchful gaze.
“You got to get better every day. It’s an everyday process,” he said after the team’s first practice on Aug. 2. “I know it sounds boring, but I’m a process guy. Tomorrow, wake up and do all the right stuff. Do it all again the next day, then we’ll have a chance to be a good football team.”
Seventeen days later he spoke in the same way, in the way that coaches speak when they are perhaps less interested in reporters’ questions and more interested in their own.
“We’re kind of where we want to be,” Pinkel said. “We’ve had a good camp, we had a real good practice today. We’ve had real good practices with this football team.”
By now, there have been many tomorrows. Players have woken up many times now. They’ve come out of the Athletic Complex’s back glass doors and have tapped the metal rectangle to their right and the new team motto it displays: “S.W.A.G: Sacrifice Will Achieve Greatness.”
It’s the sign that has helped portray the enlightened confidence of the program. Perhaps it’s Moe who has helped carry it.
“I don’t know if I’m the face for it; I’m maybe just the one that spoke about it first,” he said. “The whole team kind of adopted the attitude. It was there last year, (but) nobody told us we were gonna suck. Here, we got everybody in the SEC telling us we can’t compete.”
As he said, the Tigers will soon have to show that they can execute on the field to get respect from their new neighborhood. For now, off of it, there might be something to be said of Moe, who likely won’t participate in another August with the team.
“I wake up every morning and know my clock is ticking. I got five more months until I graduate here,” he said and then pointed to Franklin. “Couple more months with this guy. Couple more months with one of my best friends around here.”