“The Grind” prepares Missouri for first road game

J'Mon Moore: “It’s all about the weekly grind coach Pinkel has us do."

On Friday, the Missouri Tigers football team will board a bus, hop on Highway 63 due south and drive. They’ll exit Highway 63 some 290 miles later on Johnson Avenue in Jonesboro, Arkansas, head east on Highway 91, take a right on A Street, and the destination will be on the left.

Centennial Bank Stadium: home of the Arkansas State Red Wolves.

Five hours and 14 minutes. That’s what Google Maps says.

Despite all this, the unfamiliar stadium, the unfriendly fans, the lack of Tiger tails hanging out the trunks of passing traffic, coach Gary Pinkel won’t treat this Saturday any differently.

“This isn’t the first time (we’ve been on the road),” Pinkel said.

The veteran coach knows a thing or two about playing on the road. After all, he’s done it 66 times over his 14 years at Missouri. In those 66 games, his Tigers have gone 34-32. Currently, they’re riding a 10-game road win streak, the best in program history.

So when Gary Pinkel tells his players not to treat road games any differently, you can bet they’ll listen to him.

“It’s all about the weekly grind coach Pinkel has us do,” sophomore receiver J’Mon Moore said. “We practice hard. Practice how you play, that’s what coach says. We take it one game at a time.”

Clichés aside, Moore is right about “The Grind” Pinkel puts his team through on a weekly basis. The head coach used that same “grind” rhetoric to describe the process that prepares his team for every fall Saturday on the field.

It’s not so much what you do, but how you do it, according to Pinkel. You don’t just watch film. You watch it the right way with the right people. You don’t make judgments on other teams’ players. You analyze the scouting reports – the right way – without jumping to conclusions.

“The Grind,” as Pinkel called it, couldn’t be possible without the leadership of not only the coaches, but also the upperclassmen. Each veteran player is assigned a younger brother for August camp. They teach them “The Grind,” and how to watch video and act the night before a game.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about execution.

Senior Ian Simon knows this. All the film analysis in the world still can’t prepare a young player for what he’ll encounter on the road. The safety knows what it’s like to play – and win – in big-time settings.

From the Rocky Top in Tennessee to the Swamp in Florida and everything in between, it’s not easy playing on the road. It’s even tougher in the Southeastern Conference.

“I was in awe,” Simon said of being on the road as a freshman. “I was in someone else’s house. You look around and you don’t see much of your own colors. It’s really loud and it’s a hostile environment with people yelling at you. It’s crazy going on the road.”

He still buys into Pinkel’s system and doesn’t treat it any differently.

He has some advice for the freshmen: Prepare. Work hard. Sleep well the night before. But at the end of the day, playing college football is something very few people get to experience.

Have fun.

“Enjoy the moment,” Simon said. “That’s the biggest thing. You want to enjoy yourself on those road games.”

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