COLUMBIA, Mo. — Long before he became the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific running back … before he set Missouri’s regular-season rushing record … before he logged five 200-yard rushing games … Tyler Badie was convinced he’d one day play his favorite sport in college and perhaps professionally.
When Badie was 6, his family moved from New Orleans to Baltimore in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and as they settled into their new lives on the East Coast, Badie picked up a lacrosse stick and never let go.
“That’s the sport,” he said, “I was going to play in college.”
But once again, plans changed for the Badie family. Midway through Badie’s high school years, his mother, Dr. Tangala Gibson, a pediatric neurologist, accepted a new job in Memphis — not exactly a haven for lacrosse.
It was time for a choice.
“She told me, ‘If you want to stay in Baltimore, you can,’” Badie recalled. “’But I have a job in Memphis and the sports are better out there.’”
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Especially the sport that would guide Badie to stardom at Mizzou and, perhaps, beyond. In his latest in a series of interviews with the Post-Dispatch as he prepares for this week’s NFL draft, Badie said it was the move from Baltimore to Memphis that sharpened his focus on football. In time, that focus nurtured the underdog mentality he’ll carry into the NFL.
But he hasn’t forgotten about his first love. Badie credits his lacrosse background for a skill that sets him apart from other running backs in this year’s draft. Over four seasons in Columbia, only one as a starter, he caught 126 passes for 1,149 yards — more than any running back in Mizzou history.
Lacrosse is “why I catch the ball so well,” he said. “It just starts with hand-eye coordination and being able to receive the ball, being able to throw the ball. It’s all the same kind of motions, the quickness and being able to get past the defender, being able to run through a defender, being able to take hits with a stick. It just all goes hand in hand. I feel like people don’t understand that lacrosse is way more like football than any other sport.”
Baltimore is where he’s lived the longest, 10 years through his sophomore year of high school. But Badie still considers New Orleans home.
“That’s where I took my first steps,” he said. “That’s where I breathed my first air.”
Once Badie’s family moved to Memphis and he emerged as one of the area’s top running backs, college recruiters weren’t exactly lining up outside Briarcrest Christian School. Most coaches had the same concern.
“I had all the talent, had all the numbers and everything that you need, but I was only 168 pounds my senior year of high school,” said Badie, who plans to watch the draft with family in Memphis. “A lot of people were like, ‘Hey, we can’t really take you. We want to offer you. You’re doing everything right. But we really wish you were 185 pounds.’”
“It just put a put a chip on my shoulder to go show people it doesn’t matter your size,” he added. “And that’s ultimately why I chose the SEC, just to be at the top of my game and get to prove everyone wrong against the best competition.”
First, though, it took interest from Missouri. Former running backs coach Cornell Ford was the first coach to make an in-home visit and made clear he didn’t care that Badie was undersized by SEC standards.
“He told me, ‘I know what you can do,’” Badie said, “’and I don’t care what people say. I’m gonna take a chance on you.’”
Nearly five years later, similar questions have followed him into the NFL. Badie, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award last fall, is widely projected as a mid-round prospect for this week’s draft, which kicks off with the first round Thursday and continues Friday and Saturday. Only six Missouri running backs have been selected over the last 40 drafts and not one earlier than the fifth round.
Between the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine, Badie has met with representatives from all 32 teams. Much like the college recruiting process, one topic comes up more than any other.
“The first thing is always the size,” said the 5-foot-8 Badie. “Everyone’s like, ‘Well, you’re 195 pounds. How are you going to hold up?’ I just tell them, ‘Look at the stats, look at the film production. It’s all there.’ I feel like it doesn’t matter the size. It’s more about your mentality game in, game out and dominating the competition.”
“That’s what it boils down to,” he added, “because I’ve seen the biggest guys fold under pressure. I feel like it doesn’t really matter the size as long as you get your job done and do it efficiently.”
While NFL scouts and pundits analyze every measurable element of Badie’s frame and game, it’s easy to overlook how uniquely prolific his 2021 season was in context to history. His 1,604 rushing yards not only led the mighty SEC but were the most for an SEC player since 2018. Only 11 players in the league’s storied history have rushed for more yards in a single season, including four Heisman Trophy winners. In just 12 games — more like 11½ because he watched the second half against Southeast Missouri — Badie ranked in the top three nationally in rushing yards per game (133.7, third), all-purpose yards (1,939, second) and yards from scrimmage ( 1.934, second). Only one player from the seven programs in the SEC East has ever rushed for more yards in a season: former Georgia great Herschel Walker. Half the SEC’s 14 teams have never had a running back rush for more yards than Badie last season.
None of which might have been possible had he not initiated what he now calls “an uncomfortable conversation” with Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz and running backs coach Curtis Luper after the 2021 season. For three years Badie had played in the shadow of the team’s top backs, notably Larry Rountree III, a sixth-round pick by the Chargers last year. Drinkwitz had talked about replacing Rountree’s production with a running back committee. Badie had one request.
“I just let them know, ‘Hey, I’m the guy, just believe in me,’” he said.
It was the kind of conversation, Badie said, more players should have with their coaches before deciding to enter the transfer portal to graze greener pastures. No matter how the draft unfolds, Badie’s patience could define his Mizzou legacy — beyond all those yards last fall.
“You never know,” he said, “when your time is going to come.”