The Ozarks have a rich football history. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but our love for the game runs deep. So many great players have suited up in Southwest Missouri and many of them directly from Springfield. We reached out to 417-sports.com‘s Jim Connell to talk about who the best of the best players are to ever come out of the Ozarks. Here’s what we came up with.
Missouri State Hall of Famer Brad St. Louis has a name many Springfieldians will remember from his amazing run in the late 90s as a Bear. Tight end is a prestige position at MSU and St. Louis is undoubtedly in the conversation for best ever in the university’s history. He finished his collegiate career with nearly 100 catches and more than 1,000 yards, the first Bears tight end to ever reach that mark. When his college days were over, St. Louis was selected in the 7th round of the NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. With the move to the NFL, St. Louis carved out a role as a long snapper, special teams player and reserve tight end. His versatility earned him a spot on the team for ten seasons. St. Louis now operates a physical training and conditioning business in Mesa, Arizona called Beyond Strength Sports Performance in which he uses his dietetics degree from MSU to share his knowledge of how best to remain physically fit for sports.
This guy was an animal on the offensive line for Missouri State. He started in 44 straight games at right guard and left tackle in his collegiate career, where he garnered 4 All-MVC honors. He was also an unstoppable force in the classroom, earning academic honors all four years too. Arkin gained the reputation for “trying to destroy his opponents will to compete,” according to ESPN’s draft profile on him back in 2011. Arkin was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys before the 2012 season, making him the second highest pick in MSU’s history. He had a tough time finding his window in the pros. He was drafted as a guard, but had to learn a the center position due to injuries. He bounced around a bit, playing for five NFL teams. He is currently a free agent.
Football wasn’t really in the cards for Harbor after high school, despite setting records as a receiver at his alma mater. He was seeking a basketball scholarship when his brother Cory, who was on the Bears roster, convinced coaches to give him a shot. The coaches liked what they saw and took a gamble. It was a pretty good gamble. In his sophomore year, he was named the offensive player of the year for the Bears and set a school records for receptions and yards in a single season as a tight end. Harbor went on to earn All-American honors in each of his final three years at the school. He worked his way up to First Team All-American in his senior year. He now holds the record for most receptions in school history and is third in yardage. Harbor was invited to the prestigious NFL Draft combine and had a great showing, finishing in the top five for tight ends in three major categories. He was picked in the 4th round by the Philadelphia Eagles and played in the city for three seasons. With the Eagles, he caught 47 passes and four touchdowns during his three years, but was released in 2013. He had a nice role on the Jacksonville Jaguars for a few years after that and bounced around to three other teams over the next few years.
When at Hillcrest High School, Dorial Green-Beckham was one of the top athletes, regardless of sport in the entire country. He might be the most dominant high school football player ever to come from Springfield. He was recognized by national publications like the Sporting News and USA Today as the nation’s top player. He chose to attend Missouri University over top programs like Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas. DGB had flashes of brilliance at Mizzou, helping lead the team to an 12-2 overall record in 2013, notably making it to the SEC title game. His off the field issues have been well documented and accounted for his dismissal from Mizzou. HE was picked 40th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. After some success, his off the field issues returned and resulted in one more stop before ending his career. He’s still just 25 and is said to be training to return to the NFL.
Springfield Native Jason Whittle was a star player for Camdenton in the early 90s. He continued his football career at Southwest Missouri State and dominated on and off the field. He was a 3-time All-Academic in the Gateway Conference (now the Missouri Valley Conference). He was known for his tenacity as a blocker and NFL scouts noticed. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1998 by the New York Giants. His career lasted 11 years and saw him play in 137 games. He was a part of the 2000 Giants team that won the NFC Championship.
Any sports fan in the area knows the name Dylan Cole. He’s the uber-strong former Missouri State linebacker who now plays pro ball for the Houston Texans. Cole notably picked off a pass in his first game and returned it for a touchdown. What’s really amazing about that moment is that Cole was an undrafted free agent filling in for an injured starter. His grit and determination have been the defining factors in his career. Being one of the strongest players on the field every time he suits up doesn’t hurt either.
We don’t like to throw around the term “legend,” but in this case, it’s appropriate. Gary “Peanut” Adams has to be in the conversation for best ever high school football player from Springfield. At Central High School, Adams was a four year starter who amassed more than 4,000 yards of offense and more than 25 touchdowns. He also finished as Central all-time leading scorer in basketball. After high school, he chose Arkansas for his college ball and made some plays people still talk about today on both offense and defense. When his college career ended, Adams used his criminal justice degree to become an Arkansas State Trooper and he also served as a secret service agent for then-President George W. Bush. If that’s not legendary, we ‘re not sure what to call it!
Coming out of Lebanon High School, Justin Britt had the pedigree of an elite athlete. He was a state champion wrestler, a First Team All-State pick in his senior year and was the 19th overall recruit in the state before the 2009 college football season. He played college ball at Mizzou and overcame injuries to lead the Tigers offensive line in a tough SEC division. The Seahawks picked him in the second round in 2014 and Britt won the starting job at right tackle in training camp. He started all 16 games there and helped Seattle go on to a 12-4 overall record. He’s switched positions a few times in pro career, which is common for offensive lineman and in 2017 he signed a lucrative 3-year deal to stay with the Seahawks until 2020.
The highest picked Ozarker in NFL Draft history is undoubtedly Grant Wistrom. He picked 6th overall in 1998 by the St. Louis Rams and had an amazing run as a pass rusher in his career. Before that Wistrom was a kid from Joplin who played high school ball in Webb city. He led the team to two 4A championships and was named an All-American by many different media outlets. Wistrom continued his playing days at Nebraska where he landed the Lombardi Award in 1997, given to the best defensive lineman in the country. During his pro career, he brought down the quarterback 53 times, scored two touchdowns and had more than 400 tackles. Oh, and he has a ring, too. That 1999 Rams team took down the Titans.
Born on July 9, 1925, Paul Walker was fast and furious well before the actor of the same name was born. Walker was a Springfield native who played high school ball in Illinois before joining the Yale University squad in in the early 1940s. Walker made a big impact in college, securing two All-American nods, one of them a consensus of all voters. He got picked by the Detroit Lions in the 1945 NFL Draft in the 10th round after his stellar college career and wound up playing one season of professional ball for the New York Giants in 1948, where he caught one pass and picked a ball off on defense.