COLUMBIA, Mo. - When former School of the Osage Indian Ryan Edwards first arrived to play football as a walk-on at Missouri, one might say things were a little exclusionary.
Under then head coach Larry Smith, walk-on players were in a separate locker room from the rest of the team, almost an afterthought.
Things have changed at Missouri under head coach Gary Pinkel, now in his 13th season. Scholarship and walk-on players share the same locker room, and Pinkel seems appreciative of the work non-scholarship players put in.
One family has taken the walk-on route to heart.
Five of Ryan's nephews from School of the Osage followed his lead to Columbia. More than a decade after Ryan Edwards sat in a separate locker room, his nephews are carrying on the family tradition.
"It's cool seeing my brother and my uncle play and then see me doing the same thing," Missouri senior safety Tyler Davis said. "It's kind of indescribable. I don't know how to put it into words."
RYAN BEGAN HIS journey in 2000, and 13 years later the family is still going strong at Missouri.
Tyler Davis is wrapping up his career with his senior season. Tyler's brother, Matt Davis, played from 2006-2010. Ryan Edwards' other nephews, Jared and Zach Edwards, are redshirt freshmen this season while Alex Edwards played at Missouri before injuries ended his football career.
Being a walk-on at a Division I school isn't always an easy or glamorous job. They go through the same rigors as scholarship players, but the rewards can be quite different.
The job of a walk-on is to essentially make the other players around them better. For instance when Missouri played Nebraska in 2010, Matt Davis' job was to act as Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez during the week of practice leading up to the game.
"You had to learn their plays and get used to it," Matt Davis said. "Like they said, you have to be selfless because you have a responsibility just like anybody else. So if you want the rest of the people to get better you have to give them the best look. It takes everybody. Your GA's have to give you the right plays to look at, your coaches have to give you the right plays to look at and study. You have to perform and do it on the field."
Added Tyler Davis: "You really have to be selfless out here as a walk-on. It really is a struggle to go hard every day to know you're not getting any money, that you have to actually pay $20,000 a year to be here. You're not seeing a lot of action, lot of respect, but you get the perks. Your teammates know you're just as important and they realize they wouldn't be anything without you."
The family members were standout athletes at School of the Osage. Tyler Davis, Jared Edwards and Ryan Edwards were all-state selections while Matt Davis and Alex Edwards were named all-Tri County Conference.
But going from playing all the time in high school to little or no game action in college can be a big change.
Matt Davis said he had interest from Central Methodist while Tyler Davis sparked interest from Lindenwood and Culver Stockton, and also had chances to walk-on at Yale, as well as Kansas. He said about Kansas, "that was definitely a no."
"In high school, it was never leave the field, play every special teams, offense, defense because it was a (Class) 3A school," Tyler Davis said. "It probably would have been something less than that at a smaller school, but still, there's nothing like a stadium with 71,000, even if you're just standing on the sidelines. It's a lot greater than 10,000 fans and metal bleachers."
THE LAST DECADE of Missouri football has been one of the strongest 10 years in the program's history. Since 2003, the Tigers have gone to eight bowl games, won or shared three Big 12 North division titles and reached No. 1 in the country in 2007.
That has sparked a greater interest in the program.
The Tigers now have 121 players on the roster, with 85 allotted scholarships.
"When I first got here we only carried 109 guys on the team because nobody else wanted to come," Pinkel said. "Obviously it's changed a lot here. The image has changed. The perception of Mizzou football has changed, and that's cool."
Pinkel seems to hold walk-on players with high regard. He said each week one of the first things the team does is select backup players of the week, recognizing those on the scout team.
"I'm going to say 80 percent of (walk-on players), probably more than that, are from the state of Missouri," Pinkel said. "And that means a lot to me because these kids I meet are diehard Missouri Tigers and they always wanted to play here, it's neat you can give them an opportunity.
"We have a really good walk-on program, and we turn a lot away. It's been really good, not only for us, because we find a player or two all the time, but it's also good for us because all these kids in the state of Missouri, they get an opportunity. If they had a goal to play at Mizzou and they didn't have a scholarship, many of them get a chance to come in as a preferred walk-on."
SOMETIMES, THE RIGORS of being a walk-on pays off with playing time.
Ryan Edwards and Tyler Davis earned the most playing time of the family. Ryan Edwards was the special teams captain his senior year, contributing on kickoff coverage. He recalled how excited he was when he got in his first game during his junior season against Illinois in St. Louis.
Tyler Davis played in four games last year on kickoff coverage.
"I got to start on kick return against Alabama, which was my first start," Tyler Davis said. "I didn't really get the jitters. I was confident about it. I got knocked on my butt one time and I got pancaked the next time."
Tyler Davis was an all-state kicker in high school and had aspirations of doing the same at Missouri. But that didn't pan out for him.
"Unfortunately my trying out was when Grant Ressell was a kicker," he said. "Not much success behind an All-American. But I love safety. It's fun. I get a lot more opportunities to play this way."
Matt Davis switched positions several times before settling at running back. He saw some action at the end of games his senior season, but he admitted playing time was a little more difficult during his years.
"In my defense, we were ranked No. 1 in the nation," Matt Davis said with a laugh. "It's a little bit harder to gain playing time."
He added: "Everyone loves the walk-on story, but the truth behind it is you have very limited chances so when you do have a chance you have to make the best of it."
That's exactly what this family has done.
"I wouldn't have been satisfied playing anywhere else, at a small school," Tyler Davis said. "It would have been like another four years of high school."