Through hardships, D-Line Zou excels

Missouri Tigers linebacker Christian Williams (53) tackles fellow linebacker Brandon Lee (4) during practice Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.

Rickey Hatley donned a black and gold wristband with the words “Burn Your Boats” on it.

The phrase, which was introduced by Harold Brantley last year during a speech prior to taking on Texas A&M, has become a maxim for the Missouri Tigers’ defensive line.

“It means there’s no coming back,” Hatley explained. “Once you get across there, there’s no going back. You’re going to war.”

This is just the type of motto the illustrious “D-Line Zou” needs, especially in a season like the one that’s soon approaching.

Having lost its biggest production in Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the defensive line will be taken over by sophomores Marcus Loud and Charles Harris.

“We try not to look at it as being Shane and Markus,” Loud said of the new duo’s comparisons. “We’re Marcus and Charles. They have their own style, we have our own style. We just gotta understand that together. We come to set our own (standard). We want our own thing, we don’t want to be remembered as being the next thing. We are ourselves. We’re not worried about the hype, we’re not worried about anything.”

Loud battled with Hatley as Golden’s backup for the majority of last season, racking up just 14 tackles and 0.5 sacks in 13.2 snaps per game.

During the team’s first spring scrimmage this past weekend, however, Loud was able to put up three tackles for loss and two sacks. A big factor of the change, according to him and his teammates, is a change in maturity.

“I’m putting myself more out there in the sense of trying to mature and becoming more of a student of the game,” Loud said. “In the process of maturing, in the process of everything, I’m just constantly showing that I’m seeking improvement. I want to be great, and I want to be the next big player.”

The path to the starting lineup has been far from easy for Loud.

Back in January, the 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound lineman tweeted, “I seen so many dead bodies in my life that death doesn’t really phase [sic] me. But the body I saw today, is gonna be hard to get out my head.”

Growing up in Houston, Loud said that he had to deal with death almost on a daily basis.

“Growing up, my environment, my city, was not the greatest thing in the world,” Loud said. “Every day, you saw a different dead body. You’d see it on the way to school, you’d see it probably at the school. There was a lot of things that happened with guns, but at the same time, you would see it and you’d be numb to it after a while. When it comes down to it being one of your family members, it really starts to hit even harder, but at the same time you try to keep your head clear.”

Loud said he lost two of his brothers, Dwayne and Michael, as well as his father, Richard, to gun violence when he was young. Most recently, his cousin died after suffering a gunshot to the stomach.

Teammates have reached out to Loud and helped him get through these situations.

Loud said that a lot of what the on-field difficulties he had last season went back to his problems off the field.

“Some of the off-field stuff I was dealing with last year was basically just family issues and just really trying to adjust to this system and trying to become more in tune with Mizzou instead of having these outside mentalities trying to collide and contradicting each other,” he said. “My playing time and everything that happened last year relied heavily on me. I had stuff that I was letting affect my on-field production. They did what they had to do and it opened up my eyes and made me realize that just because you’re here, you’re on scholarship, you’re this player in this spot, nothing’s guaranteed. Anything can be taken from you in a moment.”

Sophomore Anthony Sherrils knows a thing or two about losing everything in an instant, although in a different manner.

The defensive back suffered a brain injury after hitting his head on the passenger-side window in a car wreck and was unable to run or have any physical contact for months, taking a medical redshirt.

“I learned that I’m extremely blessed,” Sherrils said. “I could barely walk, I couldn’t run. I didn’t know I was alive for a couple of days. So just taking everything as it is, every day’s a blessing. Every day’s a blessing.”

With the big changes the team has suffered entering this season, the progress has been on an upward spiral, showing much more improvement than the defense during last weekend’s scrimmage.

“I don’t see nobody stopping us,” Harris said of the new defensive line. “I really don’t. That’s two names in the making. It’s not that I don’t think nobody’s going to stop us, I know nobody’s going to stop us.”

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