A variety of personalities among Tiger Style leaders

Cox, Waters and Houdashelt combine for a total of nine individual conference championships.
Missouri Tigers senior wrestler Drake Houdashelt celebrates after winning the 149-pound bracket at the Mid-American Conference Championship on Sunday, March 8, 2015, at Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.

“I’m gonna kick you in the balls,” Missouri wrestler Willie Miklus said to J’den Cox.

Cox had told a reporter to ask Miklus about how he got his calves so big –– a question Miklus hates, leading to the threat.

The sophomore Columbia native is a bit of the top-ranked Tigers’ jokester. His charisma is a big reason why he’s a key leader for his teammates.

Two of the team’s other standout leaders, seniors Alan Waters and Drake Houdashelt, are just as vital to Mizzou’s success, despite being the opposites of Cox.

“I think what’s kind of interesting about our team is we have multiple leaders,” Waters said. “We kind of work together and build off of each other. The whole team looks up to the starters and really does everything to help us out. We kind of work together as a group.”

Although Cox took home an individual championship at last year’s national tournament, making him the most decorated grappler on the team, the Tigers’ upperclassmen leaders have had their fair share of success. In fact, all three enter the upcoming NCAA Championships as No. 1 seeds.

During his career, Houdashelt has won four straight conference championships, while Waters has taken home three, along with being undefeated this season.

Houdashelt is a notoriously quiet person. The senior tends to avoid the media, and Waters said he doesn’t say much around the team either because “it’s kind of just who he is.”

However, his timid persona rarely holds him back from leading his comrades.

“He’s a good role model for some of the younger guys,” Waters said of Houdashelt. “He’s always trying to get them in and work out, and he does everything right during the season. How dedicated he is to the sport really gives a good impression, especially (for) the new freshmen coming in.”

One of the most memorable scenes from the Mid-American Conference Championships earlier this month, however, was the image of Houdashelt’s celebration. After winning his weight class, the typically quiet grappler flexed his whole upper body and let out a yell.

Wrestling may be an individual sport, but it’s team-rooted when it comes down to it. From team points to leaders, relying on others is big.

The Tigers’ three main leaders’ different dynamics are clear in almost all forms.

“You see, Drake, he’s kind of the more quiet one, so he doesn’t like to get up and talk and lead that way,” Waters said. “I’m not much of a talker either. But then you’ve got J’den, who could just blabber on for days and days and days. So J’den’s kind of the more social leader, and me and Drake do a lot of leading by example.”

While Cox may be an energetic and overall more vocal character, he doesn’t show it quite as much prior to his matches.

When asked what he’ll be doing while other Tigers are wrestling at nationals, Cox gave a different answer than expected.

“I’ll be asleep,” he said.

He doesn’t do it out of indifference or because he’s selfish.

"I can't watch matches,” he added. “I get really hyped up. That's probably the most hyped you see me, like when other people on the team wrestle.”

Cox is otherwise known as one of the team’s most relaxed members, something that Missouri coach Brian Smith said is “definitely special.”

“I just want to enjoy myself,” Cox said. “I’m 20 years old. I’m going to get stressed out when I’m 40 and working, so why would I get stressed out now while doing something I love doing? I’m just chilling, that’s really all I can say.”

Houdashelt and Waters, on the other hand, take a different approach.

Waters tends to watch the other Mizzou wrestlers’ matches, although it isn’t easy for him.

“It gets your heart rate up when you’re watching your teammates wrestle and the fact that you can’t control what they’re doing,” he said.

Before his matches, you won’t find Houdashelt sleeping or watching many others compete.

“You’ve got to maybe wake J’den up 10 minutes before his match, where Drake wants to drill and go 100 miles an hour and he’s so tense,” Smith said, “You’ve got to almost calm him down.”

Two redshirted wrestlers who have been on a team for the last five years and had their fair share of success may feel uncomfortable with a true sophomore joining them to lead their program.

Not in this case.

“I think the whole team kind of builds off (Cox being a sophomore),” Waters said. “I mean, J’den’s a returning national champion. He’s been there, he’s been in the finals. He’s the only one on the team who’s been on the big stage, so he’s definitely one of the guys that a lot of the people on the team look up to.

“And I think him doing that even helps me and Drake and the other seniors, because we want to get where he was. We kind of build off each other.”

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