Linebacker Gachkar a leader for Tigers

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Misouri's Andrew Gachkar tackles Texas Tech's Austin Zouzalik during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010, in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech beat Missouri 24-17.(AP Photo John A. Bowersmith)

Misouri's Andrew Gachkar tackles Texas Tech's Austin Zouzalik during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010, in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech beat Missouri 24-17.(AP Photo John A. Bowersmith) John A. Bowersmith

Andrew Gachkar leads No. 20 Missouri in tackles. Not long ago, just making it to Senior Day would have been an achievement.

Gachkar has been a key member of a resurgent defense that’s shaken off injuries and is allowing only 16 points per game. The outside linebacker has blocked two kicks, including a field goal attempt at Texas Tech last week. He’s forced two fumbles, recovered two and has an interception.

He’s all the way back from a life-threatening blood clot in his chest in spring workouts his sophomore year.

“I was playing basketball and all of a sudden I couldn’t even lift my arm over my head,” Gachkar said. “They took me to the emergency room right then.”

His mother, Tina, was shocked to learn her son was already in surgery by the time she and her husband could make the twohour trip from Overland Park, Kan.

After the initial surgery, Gachkar was transferred to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis where he had three more surgeries, including one that removed one of his top ribs in order to restore proper blood flow.

During a three-week stay in the hospital and for several months following his release, he injected himself with blood thinners twice a day. Coach Gary Pinkel visited Gachkar twice, only one of which he remembers, and “talked about life.”

“You see the guy laying there in bed and it doesn’t look like anything he did months before,” Pinkel said. “He had to overcome a lot and I really admire him for that.”

The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Gachkar had lost 40 pounds when he returned to summer drills, beginning the long climb back with his mother’s support.

“She just knows me so well that she knew I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “She was worried about my health and she was scared the whole time about whether or not I’m supposed to be working out, but she grew into it.”

After struggling initially, Gachkar gradually returned to shape and played in all 12 games in 2008. As a junior, Gachkar started every game and finished second on the team in tackles with 80.

During his high-school days, he doubled as both a linebacker and a tailback for Blue Valley West. Despite an injured shoulder that limited his playing time as a senior, Gachkar recorded one of the nation’s fastest shuttle run times, finishing in 3.88 seconds. That type of quickness caught Pinkel’s attention.

“Here’s a guy with great speed, he’s a very tough player and a smart guy,” he said. “As a senior we expect a lot of consistency from him and he keeps improving each and every year.”

So far this season, Gachkar has had his best performances as the games have gotten bigger. He led the team with seven tackles in a 36-27 victory over Oklahoma, and was one of few bright spots with nine tackles in an overall lackluster defensive performance against Nebraska.

He’s blocked two kicks, thwarting a field goal attempt at Texas Tech last week. He’s forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and has an interception.

Now that it’s almost over, Tina Gachkar anticipates mixed emotions when she takes the field Saturday before Missouri (7-2, 3-2 Big 12) plays Kansas State (6-3, 3-3).

“Actually I’ll be a little sad,” Tina Gachkar said. “Andrew had a bump in the road, but his dream of playing football for Mizzou came true and we’re proud of his determination and accomplishments.”

Gachkar’s main concern is doing his part to end Missouri’s two-game slide after a 7-0 start. But he realizes the final home game will have special meaning.

“It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s going to be a sad day, but hopefully we can get the win too.”

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