How Drew Lock’s Missouri career prepped him to lead an NFL offense

LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — The phone buzzes early on a Friday morning in early April. Nothing good comes from calls at the crack of dawn, and when Laura Lock answers, her son is hysterical on the other end.

“Mom!” he yells.

“Drew, what is it?” she responds.

“I missed my flight!”

In the nearly four years that Drew Lock was Missouri’s starting quarterback, he developed a well-earned reputation for having his act together. Never, not once in his life, had he missed a flight, an accomplishment he touted to friends and family while mocking those who had.

But now, it’s him. Lock is devastated and embarrassed and feeling super empathetic. Over the course of the morning, he croaks out one apology after another. It guts him that the staff at CAA will have to rebook a later flight for him; he calls once to make the request and then again a few hours later to ask for forgiveness. He agonizes over pushing back an interview scheduled for that day at his parents’ suburban Missouri home.

“Anything that would involve someone’s heart and how they feel,” Lock says later, “I’ll get pretty sensitive about that.”

A reasonable excuse exists for the taking. Lock had visited the New York Giants‘ facility the previous day. The Giants are one of many teams interested in the quarterback’s services as they look for a new signal-caller in this month’s NFL draft. Lock intended to fly home that evening, but Giants tailback Saquon Barkley invited him to dinner, so CAA staffer Claire Stone moved Lock’s flight to 8:30 the next morning. One thing led to another, and he returned to his hotel at 3 a.m. Despite alarms set for 6 a.m. and 6:15 a.m., the sun was shining bright and his alarms were off when he woke up.

He’ll text Stone several more apologies, and call at least one more time, before he moves on. The episode, spanning a few hours, qualifies as high drama for one of this year’s least controversial draft prospects. Asked how missing a flight ranks in a lifetime of transgressions, his mother says, “It’s right up there.”

Lock is days away from taking over as the presumptive face of an NFL franchise. The likely first-round pick is confident and charismatic and, after four years in the public eye at an SEC school, appears to have no surprises in his past. He has experience in taking over a team at its lowest moment and 47 games of film to demonstrate how his strong arm lifted it to success. He has navigated the now-ubiquitous dissection of his teenage Twitter account and, yes, even survived an extended public debate about his hairstyle.

That’s right. There was once a dark, foreboding time when friends and family referred to Lock as “Bieber” for the big mop at the top of his head. The SEC Network circulated a photo noting the near-identical style he shared with former Alabama quarterbacks John Parker Wilson and Jake Coker, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace. Josh Heupel, then the Missouri offensive coordinator, told Lock to cut it.

“Name me an NFL quarterback who looks like that,” Heupel told him.

He couldn’t, and Laura took him to her hairdresser and commemorated the moment on social media.

“I’ll tell you this,” said his father, Andy Lock. “When the worst thing they can say is about your hair, then you’re having a pretty good day.”

Lock has never lived outside the state of Missouri, and his family is steeped in its tradition. His father and grandfather both grew up near Kansas City and played football at Mizzou. Laura was a star high school basketball player, growing up in Centralia, Missouri, about two hours east.

Drew’s parents met at a bank in Columbia, where Laura was a teller and Andy was making deposits for a restaurant for which he worked after getting cut from the New York Giants’ training camp in 1990. An offensive lineman, Andy was still recovering from a torn PCL in his right knee suffered during his senior year at Missouri when he found himself matched up against Giants linebacker Carl Banks. Andy whiffed, Banks slammed quarterback Phil Simms to the ground, and Giants coach Bill Parcells basically cut Andy on the spot. It was a “turn-in-your-playbook kind of moment,” he recalled.

Drew spent most of his childhood on a 10-acre family homestead, shared with his father’s cousin’s family, about 30 minutes southeast of Kansas City in Lee’s Summit. Laura was a teacher and school administrator, while Andy grew a business that now includes co-ownership of seven local restaurants, including one — Third Street Social — that operates a few steps from where Harry Truman announced his 1922 bid into local politics.

When it came to her active son, Laura gave up on Legos and Hot Wheels early. It was always basketball or fishing when the weather was nice, and indoor Nerf basketball when it wasn’t. Drew later grew obsessed with the Transformers movies. If he couldn’t be himself, he says now, he would be Shia LaBeouf’s character (Sam Witwicky) because he has “two pretty good-looking girlfriends.” But taking the same side as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime has its allure as well, Lock said. To this day, his truck has a Transformers sticker.

“It’s the Autobots,” he clarified. “You can buy the Decepticons, too, but I’m not like that. I’m one of the good guys.”

As Andy, Laura and Drew’s sister Claire are awaiting Drew’s delayed return from New York at the family’s serene home on that April morning, the conversation turns to what can only be described as a rare and enduring relationship between brother and sister. Defying most sibling constructs, Drew and Claire are best friends.

Claire cried when her brother, three years her elder, departed Lee’s Summit for college in 2015. They missed each other so much that Drew invited her to campus for visits. “I just like having her around,” he said.

They grew up going head-to-head on the basketball court, where both would develop into Division I prospects. (Missouri and Oklahoma offered Drew dual-sport scholarships, and Claire is a freshman on the University of Missouri-Kansas City women’s basketball team. She wears No. 3 “because that’s what he is and I’ve always wanted to be like him.”) Drew relied on Claire for advice on girls and clothes, especially on what to wear to his dates and offer as gifts to his girlfriends. Claire still fends off social media requests for introductions to Drew, all while emulating him in every way she can. In turn, Drew protects Claire, sharing a sentiment that most parents can only dream to hear from their children.

“I’ve never fought anyone,” he said. “But if I did, it would probably end up being for her.”

If anyone understood Drew’s reaction to the missed flight, it was Claire. She spoke of it with a mix of gentle ridicule and sincere compassion.

“Honestly, nobody would really care about it,” she said. “But he takes that stuff so personally. He hates disappointing people so much that even if he remotely feels that somebody might be disappointed, he’ll be sad about it.”

Lock has crisscrossed the country over the past four months, meeting with representatives of most every NFL team at the Senior Bowl, the scouting combine and most recently in private visits. Chances are he will be drafted by a team that needs near-immediate quarterback help or is at the start of a significant rebuilding process. As a result, most of the questions he has faced coalesce around one theme: adversity, and how he would deal with it.

“I can give plenty of examples of that,” Lock said with a laugh, lying on a couch in his parents’ sun-splashed living room while picking at an orange peel.

His largely smooth personal life belies an eventful stay at Missouri. An unplanned early ascension to the starting job, a campus protest that thrust him into a complex social quandary, and three different offensive coordinators added a material dose of realism to a fairy-tale journey.

Lock’s first football memory goes back nearly 19 years when, as a 3-year-old, his parents brought him onto Faurot Field for a photograph with the Missouri cheerleaders. As he grew into a top Division I prospect at Lee’s Summit High School, football fans from around the state assumed he would follow his father and grandfather to Columbia. So did Drew.

Then, Butch Jones, Tennessee’s coach at the time, hit him with a recruiting pitch so strong that, for the first time, he felt swayed. After their meeting, Lock jumped on the Lee’s Summit team bus to travel to its next game.

“I was tearing up,” he said. “It was intense. It was a big weird little moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. That was a deep bus ride. I just thought about all the people it would hit. My whole family is Missouri football fans. I was a Missouri football fan, and now, I’m not going to play quarterback for Missouri? It just sounded weird but felt like it might actually be a decision I made.”

Ultimately, Andy posed the decisive question: “How would you feel if you saw someone else as the quarterback at Missouri?”

Considering it from that perspective, Drew didn’t need much time to answer. “It would be like somebody stole my girlfriend,” he said.

And so, Drew arrived in Columbia as the backup to starter Maty Mauk, seemingly destined to spend the 2015 season on the sidelines and possibly as a redshirt. With that expectation, he signed up for a relatively heavy course load of 17 hours in that first semester, part of the reason he would eventually graduate in three and a half years. But Mauk was suspended after four games, thrusting Lock into the starting job at the same time that hundreds of Missouri students began protesting an alleged campus atmosphere of bigotry, anti-gay sentiment and racism, as well as the lack of what they considered appropriate attention from school administrators.

The Tigers won his first start 24-10 over South Carolina, but then lost six of their final seven games. Lock completed only 49 percent of his passes, with just four touchdown throws and eight interceptions amid unruly harassment from opposing defenses. He faced pressure on 32.1 percent of his dropbacks, the 14th-highest rate among 124 quarterbacks tracked that season by ESPN Stats & Information.

“He was ready to play from a physical standpoint,” his father said. “He was tough even though they were beating the hell out of him. Those SEC defenses are the real deal. But from a mental standpoint, he wasn’t ready to play at the level. He wasn’t ready to process the speed of the game and all that, and you saw what happened.”

Worse, Drew found himself thrust into the center of the protests when a group of upperclassmen led the team into threatening a boycott of the Nov. 14 game against BYU. At 18 years old, Lock had never experienced the issues at hand, nor was he equipped to deal with them. During a team meeting he attended, someone snapped a photo. Then-coach Gary Pinkel posted it to Twitter in what was interpreted to be a sign of unity.

Confused, Drew called his mom. Did appearing in the photo mean he supported the protest and its underlying concerns? Lock hadn’t been on campus long enough to understand or assess the deep social questions that had been raised. As a white starting quarterback, was he expected to take the lead in a boycott that others had conceived and threatened?

“You were walking on eggshells for sure,” he said. “It was one of those things that if you vocalize an opinion, and you mess up on a word, or if it doesn’t come out the way you wanted it to, you’re done for.”

The standoff ended when school president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned on Nov. 9. The boycott was called off, and the Tigers played and defeated BYU, 24-20. But the damage of a long season was done.

“You saw a kid who used to walk around super confident just start to crumble a little bit,” Laura said. “You maybe wouldn’t have known it if you saw him, but as a parent you do. The conversations and the calls you get. Andy and I would lay awake. It was heart-wrenching. It was difficult. He had a big black truck. He was driving around campus and a bunch of frat boys threw beer cans at his vehicle. He would wear his hood up when he went to class. It was tough.”

The tumult continued and Pinkel resigned after the 2015 season. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom replaced him. Worried about the confidence of his quarterback, Odom incorporated Lock into the search for a new offensive coordinator. He scored a coup in hiring Heupel, who brought a fast-paced spread style.

The difficult year would have lasting effects on the school. Total enrollment fell by more than 35 percent in the two years that followed, according to The New York Times. Lock made it his goal to lift the program back into prominence, perhaps taking the campus along with it.

“It was a low place for a little bit,” he said, “but if anyone was going to pull it from the gutter, it was going to be the football team.”



Todd McShay is adamant Drew Lock will be a first-round pick, but recognizes the former Missouri QB had plenty of ups and downs in college.

Lock set an SEC record with 44 touchdown passes as a junior two seasons later as the Tigers finished 7-6. And even after Heupel departed after that 2017 campaign for the head job at UCF, Lock wasn’t sure he was ready yet for the NFL. The chaos of 2015 was still fresh in his mind, and frankly, things were just getting good in Columbia. Plus, new coordinator Derek Dooley promised a pro-style scheme that would benefit Lock’s draft résumé.

“It ended up working out really well,” Lock said. “For one, I wanted to go back because we were going to have an awesome team. I didn’t have anything I could really hang my hat on yet. We went to the Texas Bowl [in 2017] and lost. I wanted to be able to give us something I could graduate to. It was almost like the writing was on the wall that I should go back. But realistically, there was a thought of leaving, too. It was interesting. You have no idea what could happen. You could come in really, really hot and end up having a couple bad games and people could have certain opinions about you.”

That risk was clear even before his senior year began. In August, Lock was relaxing in Lee’s Summit during a long weekend when a school administrator called. An anonymous tipster had sent the Columbia Missourian links to a series of tweets Lock posted when he was 14. One referred to another kid as a “f—–” and a second said: Could geico really save u 15% or more on car insurance??…….Do black guys like flamin hot cheetos?? Hahaha no affence black guys!

Drew issued a statement saying he had since learned that such language was “newsworthy, harmful and inappropriate.” His mother was angry about an attempt to call out a 21-year-old for what he wrote as an eighth-grader.

“Really what was out there was quite honestly nothing crazy,” she said. “When you’re sitting with 12 black guys on a bus and you’re going to an AAU [basketball] tournament when you’re 14, some of the things you say, and they’re all laughing at you and think it’s funny, is not appropriate to the rest of the world. But when you’re with them, it seems not anything that’s super bad. I think he learned a lesson on that.”

The Locks moved on, and the Tigers finished with their highest win total (eight) of the Lock Era. Dooley’s offense, meanwhile, lowered Lock’s yardage and touchdown totals but lifted his completion percentage and gave NFL scouts a full season’s worth of pro-style tape with which to evaluate him. He will enter next week’s draft as a consensus top-three quarterback, along with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins. More importantly, at least for the moment, he completed the job he set out to do. Drew Lock helped dig out the Missouri program from national controversy.

Lock’s role in that turnaround is one of his top NFL selling points. His journey is much like that of the NFL quarterback Lock says he most admires: the Los Angeles RamsJared Goff.

“He plays his ass off,” Lock said, “but the reason I like him so much is how his college career went. He kind of did the same thing I did: really, really bad his first year, and just got better each year. Completion-percentage-wise, wins-wise. Being able to kind of relate to that, and having that guy to look at, you end up feeling a little more comfortable with everything that was going on.”

The Goff comparison works on several levels. Lock isn’t in the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick, with which Goff was taken in 2016, but the two share similar physical characteristics (6-foot-4 and about 225 pounds), with electric arms that can make any throw and a relative absence of off-field issues — floppy hair and missed flights notwithstanding. They also both left the combine with concerns regarding their smaller 9-inch hand size, which has perceived disadvantages in terms of ball security and bad-weather accuracy. Goff has made two Pro Bowls in three seasons and helped the Rams to the Super Bowl in February.

Accuracy indeed has been the one knock on Lock. After completing fewer than half of his freshman-year passes, he slowly improved each season, culminating with a 62.9 completion percentage in 2018. But he still managed just 56.9 percent overall for his four seasons, along with a below-average 53.3 percent against SEC opponents. On a positive note, his 20.3 off-target percentage on throws at least 20 yards downfield was third-best in FBS last season, showing his ability to place the deep ball well.

“Sure you’re going to have a lot of snaps to critique, and I think that’s why guys who play the most end up getting scrutinized the most,” Lock says. “They have so many plays on tape, but I try to flip that and make that more of a positive for me.”

Lock also adds a level of pocket mobility that he put on display in recent months. He ran his 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.69 seconds, and during his March 21 pro day at Mizzou, he made a point to demonstrate his proficiency in off-schedule throws outside of the pocket. He can make tough, off-balance downfield throws look effortless.

“Basically I’m Gumby,” he said. “You know, the guy who stands outside the car shops, his arms and legs kind of blowing in the wind? You watch some of my runs, you see that. Mostly, I’m just slippery. I’ll pick up eight when I should have gotten four.”

The team that drafts Drew Lock will get a quarterback who was put through the ringer and came out stronger on the other side. The mistakes a team might expect from a rookie quarterback? “I’ve already made them,” he said. “That’s the benefit of playing four years in college.”

And as for fears that early struggles could permanently impair or quash his development? Well, it didn’t happen last time.

“This thing can go 1,000 different ways,” he says. “But in the end, where you end up going, it’s going to be OK. That’s how I’m approaching this. I’m going to make the best of it.

“I know it’s going to work out. I really do.”

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