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KcMizzou
11-23-2007, 02:31 AM
Border War is bigger for players from the border
By MECHELLE VOEPEL
The Kansas City Star

The eye of a hurricane is, in fact, the place of calm. Yet it never seems to be thought of that way metaphorically. Kansas City is the “eye” of the upcoming Kansas-Missouri — or Missouri-Kansas, if you prefer — megastorm. And it’s anything but calm.

Even with the miniblinders the Tigers and Jayhawks are trying to put on themselves they realize this. And nobody knows it more than the players who grew up in the eye of this storm, right here in the Kansas City area.

“Oh, man, yeah, I have a sense of it,” said KU safety Darrell Stuckey of Washington High. “It’s one of those things that dates back to beyond what I can imagine. It naturally became a rivalry. It makes the game that much more fun, that much bigger and that much more to play for. Something like this — it’s a greater rivalry outside the stage of football.”

Players on these teams from other states know about this rivalry. Others from map dots around Missouri and Kansas certainly realize the implications of this game, feel the enormity of it.

But the Kansas City players grew up with this rivalry. They played against each other long before KU-MU, and now their biggest rivalry is at its peak and being played in their backyard.

“I have friends that go to Kansas and Missouri; we keep it civil pretty much year-round,” KU defensive end John Larson of Pembroke Hill said. “But when game week rolls around, there’s just a little tension in the air. Both teams are confident, and all the fans are confident. It’s kind of funny how it goes back and forth.”

However, their close ties to this rivalry and its location this year can be dangerous.

“We can’t take it as a distraction,” said MU tight end Chase Coffman of Raymore-Peculiar High. “We’ve just got to prepare like we do every game.”

His teammate, tailback Tony Temple of Rockhurst High, echoed that sentiment.

“Going here and being part of the family, (the rivalry) is really deep,” he said. “It’s really scary. The fans … people are crazy. We can’t worry about that. We’ve just got to get our job done.”

Incidentally, Coffman said he used to be more interested in the “other” rivalry in this area.

“When I was growing up I was always a bigger K-State fan because my dad (Paul) went there,” Coffman said. “So it has always been a big rivalry with KU (from that side).”

MU kicker Jeff Wolfert of Blue Valley West had a similar experience because his father, Hank, went to K-State. It wasn’t until he got to MU that he truly realized how strongly many Tigers fans felt about the Jayhawks.

“Oh, yeah — at all costs, beat KU,” Wolfert said. “Win all your games or lose all your games, that’s the one game you have to win.”

Larson was very well-versed in the Border War rivalry — and what side he was supposed to be on. Asked about his KU-grad family connections, Larson recited: “Grandpa, father, mother, sister, brother.”

Think this guy had any chance of winding up in Tiger stripes?

Larson’s favorite meal of the year is Thanksgiving dinner, but there’s never been one quite like this before. He started preparing early.

“I’ve been planning this since the second game of the season, because I knew I was going to have all my relatives in town for Thanksgiving,” he said. “My whole family is here, and I wanted to make sure they had tickets to come and see this game.

“We went to all the Chiefs games at Arrowhead growing up; to get a chance to go play Missouri at Arrowhead is a great opportunity. What an exciting time. This is definitely going to be one of the most memorable weeks of my life.”

Indeed, the fact that the game will be held right where several Tigers and Jayhawks used to watch from the stands, idolizing Chiefs players, is another amazing twist to Saturday’s showdown.

“I’ve always been a huge Chiefs fan,” said KU linebacker Mike Rivera of Shawnee Mission Northwest. “I love Arrowhead, the atmosphere at the games when you go and see all the red in the stadium. It’s going to be an awesome opportunity to play there. There are a lot of great people who’ve played in that stadium.”

Adds MU linebacker Brock Christopher of Kearney, “It’s going to be great playing at Arrowhead Stadium, only 20 minutes from my house.”

Obviously, several of the Tigers and Jayhawks were recruited by both schools. But there are not a lot of friendship ties between the KC-area football players who are now in Lawrence and those in Columbia.

KU’s Larson said he used to play against MU’s Temple when the two were in middle school. But Larson said, “I never really knew many of the (Missouri) guys growing up or hung out with them. I mostly made Kansas friends, I guess.”

KU’s Rivera said “practically 90 percent” of his family is actually from the Show-Me State but, “I have zero friends at Missouri.”

The Tiger and Jayhawk who seem to have the closest thing to a real friendship are from St. Joseph: MU tight end Martin Rucker of Benton High and KU safety Justin Thornton of Central High.

“Missouri was actually my first Division I offer,” Thornton said. “I still have ties to their coaches and some of their players; I have a good friend in Rucker.

“We played ball against each other in high school. With him being a big-time recruit from St. Joe, I definitely got to know him. We’ve hung out on occasion. It will be fun to see him and play against him. We keep in touch about how things are going.”

Rucker, by the way, said he grew up a Nebraska fan and never paid all that much attention to the KU-MU rivalry until relocating to Columbia.

“By coming here,” he said, “I hear about it so much now whenever I come home.”

Which is what all the KC-area players will be doing Saturday, going on a stage that’s bigger than any of them ever dreamed.

“It’s turning out to be one of those crazy stories, one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” KU’s Rivera said. “At the beginning of the year, I never could have predicted or thought it would ever be like this. But it’s pretty awesome that it is like that. It’s going to set it up for a huge finale, and it’s going to be an awesome game.”