Bigger than football: Egnew working to teach his players life lessons along with football
COLUMBIA — With players huddled around him on one knee, Michael Egnew’s 6-foot-5 frame towers over the young men listening more intently than usual. As he speaks of effort, work ethic and responsibility to the team that has just spent the last 15 minutes of practice doing nothing but running, the players still hang on every word.
Their new coach is speaking, and they make sure to listen.
Hired in April as Tolton’s second-ever head football coach, replacing former head coach Chad Masters, Egnew has been quick to step up and approach his role with a simple and straightforward mindset.
“The No. 1 goal is to win,” Egnew said. “But, following that, it’s to play sound football and then instill values and give a good, solid football base for all the men here.”
Working each day at practice on the fundamentals of tackling and blocking is key to the team’s potential success, Egnew said, and expectations for the players are few, yet significant.
“I expect them to work really hard, and then obviously uphold the standard of winning,” Egnew said. “Winning has got to be important, and honestly I can’t expect much more than that.”
Although this may be his first head coaching position, Egnew is no stranger to Columbia football.
After playing as an All-American tight end for MU from 2008 to 2011, Egnew was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and spent a total of four years playing professional football. After his time as an athlete, Egnew returned to Columbia to serve in 2015 as, coincidentally, an assistant coach at Tolton for one year before coaching at MU for the next four.
Now, returning to the Trailblazers, Egnew feels his experience will allow him to bring a unique style of coaching.
“I understand the game really well. Not that other coaches don’t, but I understand it in a different way,” Egnew said. “I also bring a player’s mindset. There’s not many coaches that have played as long as I played.”
Egnew’s clear expertise has not gone unnoticed by the athletes he coaches. Senior receiver C.J. Campbell, who will double as a punt and kick returner this season, is optimistic about how Tolton has developed under Egnew.
“His football backgrounds are displayed in his coaching and teaching,” Campbell said. “He is able to teach us a lot about the game in aspects we aren’t accustomed to. We move at a faster pace, with more energy and goals to reach.”
As head coach, Egnew assumes the responsibility of not only instructing his players on the field but also teaching them important values and life lessons off the field.
“One of my biggest ones is that I want all of my guys to make sure they respect women,” Egnew said. “I want them to respect the game, and then learn how to use the game as a platform as they move on from high school to whatever they do.”
The emphasis on what young men can learn from football and apply in their own lives is one of the reasons Egnew likes football so much.
“It builds men into leaders,” Egnew said.
For a team missing 14 seniors from last year, including senior lineman and Oklahoma State commit Monroe Mills due to an ACL tear, establishing leadership is exactly what the Trailblazers need.
“We’ve stepped it up a lot in many areas while maintaining the culture of Tolton football,” Campbell said. “We believe in our coaching staff as they do in us, and we see that coming into this season.”
In addition to encouraging a take-charge attitude in his athletes, Egnew also places importance on the sense of camaraderie among teammates.
“On the field we’re more of a team now,” Campbell said. “He has helped us produce a brotherhood. We practice hard as brothers, we learn as brothers, we grow as brothers. We are there for each other day in and day out, and that’s on the field, in the classrooms or whatever the case may be.”
Under Egnew, it is clear that his players will be taught how to be skilled athletes during game timewhile being even more successful as people.
“What I find most valuable of all, he teaches us how to become men,” Campbell said. “He teaches us how to take responsibility for our actions and relates football with real life, really taking time to help us understand that what we can do for others is always going to last and how it’s bigger than football.”
Egnew’s coaching over the past few months will get its first test Friday night as the Trailblazers kick off their season against the Hallsville Indians at Hallsville High School.
This story is a Missouri School of Journalism collaboration.