Missouri football players hope to help Ferguson
By ALEX SCHIFFER
College Contributor Network
Just two hours east of the University of Missouri's picturesque campus, Ferguson, Mo. is still trying to recover, according to resident George Penton.
"It's crazy there," he said.
"The city's enraged over what's going on. I know a few business owners who've had their stores broken into and looted."
Near-nightly riots have been going on for weeks after the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson.
Saturday was George's day to escape the dystopia. His son, Aarion, is the starting cornerback for the No. 24 ranked Missouri Tigers (1-0). He made seven tackles and had an interception in the Tigers 38-18 win over South Dakota State.
Penton's community has supported him and his football career since his childhood games, to his amazing career at Christian Brothers College High School, and now to the state's university.
"The city, everybody looks forward to watching him play," George said.
"They've followed him since he was younger at CBC. So now that the season has started it's something positive we can look at because football brings a positive look to the city."
With the return of college football season, Penton and other Tigers from the St. Louis area are trying to give their communities something positive to cheer about in the wake of the riots.
"He's definitely thinking about it because that's where he grew up," George said.
"This touches home with him. So all this turmoil, I'm sure it's on his mind. But we try to keep him focused on football and what he's supposed to do. I'm glad he's away from that."
With his family based only five miles from the occasionally violent protests, and his father's business a mere mile away, Aarion said it was difficult at times to focus on football leading up to the Tigers' season opener on Saturday.
"When all of that stuff was going on at home I was just trying to make sure I was focused on the task at hand which was us coming out this game and knowing the game plan and doing what we had to do. I think we did a good job of that today," he said.
Penton's family has stayed away from the action going on in Ferguson and is happy that the return of football will allow the family get out of town a bit more to go see Aarion play. The starting cornerback still hopes the Tigers success on the field can help the people of Ferguson in some way.
"I always think about it because I'm from Missouri, I'm from St. Louis and I just feel like this is home," Penton said.
"I want as many fans to cope with us and be on our side as possible."
Senior defensive end Markus Golden is another St. Louis product keeping an eye on Ferguson and admitted that he as well had to focus on football in order to avoid the distractions the riots were creating.
"I hope everybody back there's safe and that the situation gets better," Golden said after getting 10 tackles and one-and-a-half sacks in the SDSU win.
"I haven't really been able to look into it because I've been focused here getting ready for the season but I hope it improves."
Missouri cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, who recruits the St. Louis area regularly, would like to think the program and players like Penton and Golden can serve as a motivation for the community.
"I hope it's that way for a lot of people, not just the St. Louis area but certainly when we're playing hopefully a lot of folks are following us and encouraged by how we play," Ford said.
"I think when you go through some tough times anything that can take your mind off it helps you. Guys like Markus and Aarion are good role models too."
Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan