Shanley grad McGovern out to prove his Missouri Tigers team ready for big-time
Fargo - When Connor McGovern played high school football at Fargo Shanley, he was always the strongest kid on the team. So his coach had to be creative for motivation.
Steve Laqua – who was McGovern’s high school coach – remembers a day when McGovern wasn’t giving maximum effort in the weight room. Laqua asked McGovern if he would be putting forth the same level of effort if a big-time college coach, like Jim Tressel, was there.
“I tried to keep him competing against some nameless, faceless guy who was playing somewhere big,” said Laqua, now the head coach at Minnesota State Moorhead.
“He was a huge help,” McGovern said of Laqua. “I owe a lot to him.”
Now, McGovern is the guy playing somewhere big-time. A redshirt junior, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound right guard starts for the Missouri Tigers, who have played in the past two Southeastern Conference championship games.
“It was kind of a year of beating out the naysayers,” McGovern said with the Tigers losing home games to Indiana and Georgia early in the season.
After a 42-13 loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game in early December, the Tigers have a chance to finish their season with a win. Missouri (10-3) plays the Minnesota Gophers (8-4) at noon Thursday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
“We take it as a way to prove that the team that played Alabama isn’t us,” McGovern said of the bowl game. “We clearly didn’t play well at all. … We want to prove that we are a good team.”
Having something to prove is nothing new for McGovern since he made his decision to play at Missouri. He was about a week away from choosing North Dakota State before the Tigers called and offered a scholarship.
McGovern said there were some who didn’t think he should go to Missouri. They didn’t think he would ever crack the starting lineup for an NCAA Division I FBS team playing in one of the five power conferences.
“People were just being realistic,” McGovern said. “They weren’t trying to bring me down.”
McGovern proved he made the right choice at the beginning of last year, his redshirt sophomore season. Missouri opened against Murray State, and that was a proud moment for McGovern, since that was his first career start.
“It was a very good feeling,” he said.
The Tigers finished the 2013 season with a 12-2 record after a 41-31 victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
McGovern felt a sense of accomplishment when he came back to Fargo after that successful season.
“That’s when I was proud and I had done something that people didn’t think I could do,” McGovern said. “When you do something that people don’t think you can do, that’s pretty special.”
Missouri had its doubters earlier this season after 31-27 home loss in September to Indiana, which won one road game all year. Two weeks later, Georgia rolled to a 34-0 win at Missouri. The Tigers had 4-2 record at that point.
“We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and came back and started playing football again,” McGovern said. “After the Georgia loss … you could tell that the attitude in practice changed.”
Missouri responded with six consecutive wins, including a 21-14 home victory against Arkansas to finish the regular season and clinch the SEC East title. The aftermath of that Arkansas game was memorable for McGovern.
“Having everyone rush the field … there’s not a whole lot better feeling than seeing the whole stadium emptying onto the field,” he said.
Laqua is impressed with the success McGovern has enjoyed at Missouri.
“That says a lot about his work ethic that he was able to adapt to how hard he needed to work,” Laqua said. “You can’t just do it on talent at that level. You have to perfect your craft.”