Missouri Tigers learn unity with National Guard training

Evan Boehm says the time spent with the Missouri National Guard taught them lessons on how to lead. Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

HOOVER, Ala. -- John Gibson doesn't like yoga.

Despite the mandatory Wednesday yoga sessions, Missouri's junior cornerback just wasn't having it, so he decided not to go. That didn't sit well with his Tiger teammates, so they took their problem to the National Guard.

No, really.

As part of one of Missouri's various team-building exercises, 17 players traveled about three hours outside of Columbia for a day and a half of training with the Missouri Army National Guard at Camp Clark in late June. To add another level of difficulty to the Tigers' time, there was a military tone to all of the exercises.

From a grueling 5 a.m. wake-up call, mile-long piggyback runs strapped to teammates, capture the flag with paintball guns and overturned Humvee simulations, the Tigers took unity to a whole new level.

"[Coach Gary Pinkel] would like to put us through something similar to that because he knows those guys are probably some of the most mentally tough guys there are," cornerback Kenya Dennis said.

For Gibson, this was a chance at humility, as players were instructed to discipline Gibson by taking it out on themselves. Instead of directly punishing Gibson, his teammates did 50 up-downs while he watched. With the guilt rushing through his body, Gibson consented to the yoga.

This training, which the Tigers also experienced in 2013, wasn't just to learn about discipline. It was about building more unity during the tougher moments when adversity can cripple the mind and a person's want.

"Anytime you can do team building, it helps and it will generally help in crunch time when things get tough," Pinkel said.

"Hell, anybody can win, but when you have adversity that's when your team building and all the things you do within your team and your leadership shows up. You find out about your team."

Center Evan Boehm and quarterback Maty Mauk said the leadership skills gained from the players' time with the National Guard have already been beneficial during summer workouts. Just a couple of weeks ago, the team couldn't get the quiet, younger players to say more or lead anything. They stood at the back of the line and basically made themselves outcasts, leading to what Boehm said was an "awful" workout.

That's when Boehm and Mauk got together with a few other players and strength coach Pat Ivey to discuss what they learned during their partial military training. They put the quiet ones up front, forcing them into uncomfortable situations to learn the standard at Mizzou.

"The next day, we had a perfect warmup, a perfect workout," Boehm said. "Everything was going right."

From worst to first, Mizzou's players started to take unity more seriously from a group of people who stand for that very thing.

"It helps a lot because you get to pick the minds of people who defend our country," Boehm said. "You get to see how they do that and how they defend [our country] and their leadership styles of how they are taught to do stuff. We've incorporated that this year into our leadership styles, like spreading out the leadership."

And the hope is that this experience bleeds into the season when things inevitably get tough.

"It's something that's going to stick with us because we're going to hit a point where we feel like we can't get out of this jam and we feel like we can't come back or we feel like it's too late in the game to do something," Dennis said. "We're going to need that guy next to us to push us. All the tough, hard times we have, we're going to be able to persevere through it."