HOOVER, Ala. – When Dave Shroll referred to Eric Beisel as Zeus during Beisel’s freshman year of high school, he gave Beisel more than a nickname. He gave him an alter ego that Beisel fully – and perhaps a bit absurdly – embraces.
“I didn’t choose who I am,” Beisel, Missouri’s senior middle linebacker, said Wednesday. “I guess it’s because I can control the skies. I can control the skies and control the world.”
The first three days of Southeastern Conference media days at the Wynfrey Hotel have been relatively void of hot-button topics and outlandish statements.
Commissioner Greg Sankey snuffed out divisional realignment talk. Florida’s Jim McElwain struck a stern tone rather than reaching for humor when asked about a viral photo featuring a naked man who could be McElwain’s doppelganger lying on top of a shark. Alabama’s Nick Saban took a year off from airing his college football grievances.
Then Beisel got his turn in front of reporters and breathed life into the proceedings with a series of bold and downright bizarre remarks.
“I truly believe that I was reincarnated,” Beisel said, without a trace of a laugh. “I lived a past life as a gladiator. I like to completely live that out. I step in the arena every Saturday with just tons of fans, crazy fans who just want to see bloodshed. I want to give it to them.”
Lest you think this was an act while the recorders and television cameras were running, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock said it’s not.
“His whole Zeus thing, he lives by that. He thinks he’s Zeus,” Lock said. “He thinks everything that he does has a reverse effect on someone. We’re sitting in the locker room one time, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, the reason you’re asleep in that chair right now is because I was getting lunch.’ It’s just like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’
“He’s an interesting character. He’s fun in the locker room.”
Beisel’s embrace of the Zeus persona began at Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton, Mo., where he was a football and baseball standout. During Beisel's freshman season, Shroll, an assistant baseball coach, called him Zeus. The name stuck and followed Beisel to Missouri.
“He’s a great guy, so I don’t mind calling him Zeus. I like him,” said wide receiver J’Mon Moore, who, like Beisel, is a fifth-year senior. “I thought it was actually kind of dope that somebody called him Zeus. I wasn’t going to be the person to break it.”
In Greek mythology, Zeus was the god of the sky and thunder who ruled Mount Olympus as king of the gods.
Beisel apparently had the confidence of a god when he arrived at Missouri in 2013.
“I introduced myself to the team. I said, ‘I’m Eric Beisel, I’m a middle linebacker, and I’m here to take Andrew Wilson’s spot,’ ” Beisel said. “Everyone went crazy and said, ‘Zeus!’ ”
Wilson, of course, was the team’s returning starter at middle linebacker who led the team in tackles the year before.
Beisel didn’t take Wilson’s spot, nor did he replace him after Wilson graduated following that 2013 season.
Instead, Michael Scherer became the heir to Wilson’s throne and was Missouri’s starting middle linebacker for 2 1/2 seasons until he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last season on Oct. 22 against Middle Tennessee State, ending his Tiger career.
Beisel stepped into Scherer’s role, starting the final five games of the season. Beisel made eight or more tackles in three of those games, topped by his 14 tackles against South Carolina. He had six tackles for loss during that span, good enough to end the season tied for third on the team.
That audition, followed by a solid spring, earned Beisel the starting middle linebacker job for his final season. He also stepped into a leadership role he’s long desired.
Beisel delivered a manifesto of goals to the team in January. In addition to in-season goals for victories, his manifesto included initiatives such as winning winter workouts, spring workouts and summer workouts.
The players gather after each segment and evaluate whether they achieved their goal. The Tigers didn’t meet the goal of winning winter workouts – the work ethic of players in attendance was good, Lock said, but there were too many absences or late arrivals – but they have checked off the boxes since then.
Beisel also orchestrated a new method for how the players huddle as they listen to their coaches. Under Beisel’s rule, freshmen must stand in the middle of the huddle, closest to the coaches, while the seniors keep the huddle tight around the outside. The theory is to prevent stragglers around the edge and to ensure that the team’s youngest players are closest to the message.
“He’s a natural leader like that. He’s a natural vocal guy,” Lock said. “Without what he’s done up to this point, we would be a different team.”
This summer, Beisel is interning with Missouri’s marketing department. He’s engaging with fans and selling football and basketball tickets. It’s a role that suits him.
When his playing days are over, Beisel would like to operate his own business.
But perhaps Beisel, whose degree is in sport management, should set his sights on becoming the next Don King, the famed boxing promoter. He’s got a knack for being a hype man.
Last November, Beisel dumped gasoline on the embers of Missouri’s Battle Line Rivalry against Arkansas when, four days before the game, he repeatedly referred to Arkansas as “Ar-Kansas” during an interview and cautioned the Razorbacks against making the trip to Columbia.
“I wanted to let our guys know that at least someone believed in us, someone knew we were going to win,” Beisel said. “And I expected to win. Like I said, it’s all part of the plan. We knew we were going to win that game. Whether I said that or not, the outcome was always going to be the same.”
Missouri was 3-8 entering the game and trailed by 17 points at halftime before rallying for a 28-24 victory.
Not surprisingly, Beisel fielded numerous questions Wednesday about his Arkansas comments, and he didn’t shy away.
“I can’t say much on that,” Beisel said, before saying plenty. “I will say that that team down south, they’ll always be below us – at least geographically, they will be below us.”
Beisel said his comments last year were designed to “spark some excitement” for the matchup.
So, he was poking the bear?
“I’d say it’s more poking the cute little kitten with obviously who we were playing,” Beisel said.
Beisel’s pride for the Show-Me State is robust. He carried the state flag and led the team onto the field coming out of the tunnel for games last season. During Beisel’s recruitment, his decision came down to Missouri or Arkansas.
Lock said he was “a little blown away” when he read what Beisel said before last season's Arkansas game.
“It was a bold statement,” Lock said. “Anything Beisel says, he’s a teammate, so we’re going to have to try to back it up.”
Beisel said he had no doubts the Tigers would.
“I believe I have some visions,” Beisel said. “I see these games well in advance.”
A victory over the Razorbacks wasn’t the only thing he visualized.
He also envisioned himself at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., representing his team and generating buzz for the upcoming season.
“I saw myself here four years ago when I was a fourth-string linebacker coming in as a freshman,” Beisel said. “I have a master plan in the back of my mind, and this was all part of it. Whenever it came, I could either get excited and crap myself or I could’ve expected it. And I definitely expected it.”
Zeus is never surprised by what’s around the corner.