By Caleb Barron
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Superb athletic teams can be defined by a winning tradition. Maybe it's a strong graduation rate that sets a group apart. Perhaps it's a tangible integrity on and off the field that draws critical acclaim. Finally, in the rarest of cases, continued dominance at a particular position demands attention from the public. At the University of Missouri, a long line of All-American tight ends has cemented the black and gold as one of the finest programs in the nation.
Senior Michael Egnew is the latest, and maybe the most unlikely, member of this elite class. Egnew's record-setting 2010 campaign included 90 catches, good for third most by a Mizzou player in a single season. For his accomplishments, he was named a consensus 1st Team All-American. However, to say greatness always knew it would find Egnew would be to discount the hard work that has defined his career.
Growing up as the youngest of six boys in football-crazy Plainview, Texas, Egnew always took the sport seriously. He had to. After all, under the bright lights of the Friday night Texas sky, it is almost a right of passage for athletic young men to battle on the gridiron once a week. Egnew was twice named an All-District wide receiver, but when it came time to choose a college, the choices were slim.
"I didn't have many offers anywhere else, so Mizzou was one of those places that you say, ‘Why would you not go?'," Egnew said.
Recruited as a wide receiver, Egnew began to perfect his craft behind future NFL stars Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, staying diligent in his drill work and practice habits.
"Basically I was just improving my skills; making sure that I was ready to play whenever it was my turn. I wanted to get the fundamentals down and become a better player," Egnew said.
In his sophomore season, a switch to tight end opened up a new door for Egnew. Despite transitioning to a new position, all 13 MU games featured an appearance from the burgeoning tight end. Even if he had yet to become a household name, Egnew was a cog in another high-powered offensive wheel. He noticed the coaches putting their players in a position to succeed.
"Coach Pinkel and Coach Yost do a heck of a job coaching," Egnew said. "I love when we move the football. This kind of offense is really entertaining to watch."
By the end of the 2009 season, he was poised to become a star.
"I always dreamed of being great. Everyone does," Egnew said.
The breakout didn't just happen for Michael Egnew. Hard work has always been a staple of the tight end's character, both on and off the field. This December, Egnew will graduate a semester early with a degree in Hospitality Management. He says he has been able to finish his studies ahead of schedule due to a disciplined routine that eschews the "prototypical" college lifestyle. So it is by no surprise that Egnew's precipitous rise featured a lot of time in the Missouri Athletic Training Complex and special relationship with "Mad Max".
Max is a glutton for punishment. Day after day, the blocking dummy takes hit after hit from some of the strongest men you will ever meet. Over the past couple of years, all 6'6, 245 lbs. of Michael Egnew has consistently worked over Max. Paired with his practice with MU reserve offensive lineman Mark Hill, Egnew credits his work on Max as a major reason he developed as a blocker and made a smooth transition from wide receiver to tight end.
In his first career start against Illinois, Egnew caught ten passes for sixty yards and a touchdown. The rest of the season would be more of the same from the junior tight end, as he ranked third in the Big 12 with 6.92 catches per game. Against San Diego State, Egnew set a new record for MU tight ends in catches (13) and yards (145). At season's end, it came as no surprise that the Mackey Award Finalist was named First Team All-Big 12 and First Team All-American. The respect for Egnew was not reserved for the national media, either. In recognition of his monster season, Egnew's Mizzou teammates voted him Team Most Valuable Player. With one remarkable season, Michael Egnew had stitched his name in Mizzou tight end lore.
Three prolific tight ends, and two in this decade, blazed a trail for Egnew as All-Americans in their own right. NFL Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow was a no-brainer pick for the award in 1978 and current NFL players Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman brought the award back to MU in consecutive years (2007 and 2008). Egnew recognizes the greatness that has preceded him.
"It's an honor just to be a part of that, to be mentioned amongst [the All-Americans]," Egnew said. "To me, I just have to work as hard as I can so I don't dishonor anyone, and especially Mizzou for recruiting me."
Most would assume it takes something extraordinary to become an All-American, but Egnew credits his routine, and his penchant for getting the small details right, as the gateway to success.
"You just have to worry about the process. Sometimes teams get too absorbed in what they have to do during the game. I just focus on the process, the next practice, the next catch, the next block and work as hard as I can that way," Egnew said.
Now in his final months as a collegiate athlete, Egnew has few practices left to focus on. However, the senior tight end believes there is still work to be done for the 2011 Missouri Tigers.
"We definitely aspire to go to a bowl game every year and we are going to get that done."
Once the leaves have all fallen off of the trees and the bowl season is over for another year, his career at MU will be past, but there may be more football to come for Egnew.
"I love football. I would play football any day and every day if I could. I'm going to play football until it doesn't want me to play anymore," Egnew said.
As a tight end product from the University of Missouri, and his own school of repetitious effort, Michael Egnew has plenty of reason to believe the door won't be closing anytime soon.