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September 23, 2009

Ebner packs a punch for Tiger defense

Nobody will cover the 2009 season like PowerMizzou.com. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free seven-day trial.

These days, very little escapes the watchful eye of the Internet. Missouri linebacker Will Ebner is no exception. In the days prior to his senior season at Friendswood High School, this YouTube clip turned Ebner into a small sensation among those who follow Missouri recruiting.

"I didn't see it when he was being recruited, but once he got here, they showed me the video," said senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. "That was a pretty monster hit."

In the two years since, Ebner has carried his reputation as a heat-seeking missile to Mizzou.

"That's what you want everybody to be like," Gary Pinkel said. "You want your whole football team to be like that. It's very natural for him to be like that."

Ebner plays the part of deferential underclassman, telling reporters that Weatherspoon is the hardest hitter in the linebacking corps. He spreads the love around.

"I gotta give Spoon his respect," Ebner said. "But we've got a lot of hard hitters on the team, it's not just me and Spoon. That's what makes a defense strong. If you come to a Mizzou game, you're not going to see two guys hitting hard, you're gonna see eleven."

But chances are, if there's a hit that makes the crowd utter a collective "OOOHHHHH," that Ebner is in on the delivery.

"He's a very physical player," Pinkel said. "When he hits people, they know that they got hit."

"Which coach said that?" Weatherspoon asked when he heard the comment. "Coach Pinkel? Oh, okay. I don't think Stec would have said that. You know, coach Stec is a little tough on him, but Will does a great job. He always makes big hits. This past weekend, he got another one against Furman and we're gonna look for some more this weekend."

The phrase "linebacker mentality" is a popular one among football coaches and fans alike. It fits few any better than the 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore.

"(It means) you've just got a knack for the ball," he said. "No matter where it is on the field, whether it's close to you or far from you, you want to be the guy to make the taackle."

In Missouri's 52-12 win over Furman, Ebner continued his evolution from big-hitter to consistent linebacker. Taking over full-time after starter Luke Lambert left the game feeling the effects of an injured ankle, Ebner led the Tigers with nine tackles in the blowout win.

"We were in a situation because we pulled Spoon out and Luke Lambert wasn't in there, he had to play every snap," Pinkel said. "We pulled him off of all kicking even prior to half. He starts on every kicking team because of the type of competitor he is, how tough he is, how hard he hits."

It was an opportunity for which Ebner has patiently waited. As a freshman, Ebner cut his teeth mostly on special teams. He made 21 tackles on the year, including three for a loss in limited time at linebacker. He won the position's most improved award in the spring and has seen extensive action over the first three games of the year.

"Playing time is great," Ebner said. "No matter if you're winning, losing, close game, bad game. If I'm on the field, I'm having fun. I'm with my players, teammates, my best friends. That's what it's all about."

He's known for his hits, and that is unlikely to change. But Ebner prides himself on improved coverage ability since he came to campus. Ask him the feeling he cherishes most and it has nothing to do with leaving a ballcarrier lying on the ground looking for the train that just ran him over.

"The best thing in football is walking in the locker room after the game with a victory," Ebner said. "There's not a better feeling. We work so hard as a team and when you think about all the hard work you put in through the summer and all the hours all week that you put in, it really pays off. You really notice it when the game is over. You're tired, you feel worn down, you're like, 'Man, I worked hard for this.'"

It's a feeling he has had 13 times in his young Tiger career. He looks for number 14 as the Tigers travel to Reno on Friday night. And it's a good bet, win or lose, the Wolfpack will know Will Ebner has come for a visit.

Nobody will cover the 2009 season like PowerMizzou.com. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free seven-day trial.


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