Missouri football's Anthony Gatti overcomes adversity to start on O-line
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Emblazoned on his left arm is a reminder of Anthony Gatti's unique combination of DNA. His family tree is the inspiration behind the tattoo: a Native American chief under the green, white and red of the Italian national flag.
Gatti's father, Ralph Gatti, has both Native American and Italian ancestors on his side of the family tree.
Gatti's tattoo artist did the design by freehand, which left Gatti nervously watching as the ink poured into his skin.
"Because that's on me forever," he said.
Gatti doesn't need artwork to commemorate the history that's defined most of his college career. Those reminders creak and ache every morning. He's got scars from multiple surgeries, so many that he's lost count.
"Four ... or five," he said.
Gatti tapped his right knee.
"ACL, MCL, meniscus."
Then he tapped his left knee.
"ACL, meniscus, quad tendon."
"And," finally, he added, "shoulder."
But the former Parkway North star can put off the pain for another season as long as he maintains the starting job he's earned this spring. Gatti, who started two games at left guard last season, has held down the same position through three weeks of preseason camp and should stay there when the season begins Aug. 30 against South Dakota State.
"Knees hurt every day," he said. "Shoulder hurts every day. But, you know, it's part of the grind. That's why you play the game. Whatever happens out there, I'm going to stick in there. And unless my leg's broken -- knock on wood -- I'm going to fight for my brothers that are beside me."
Gatti first arrived at Mizzou in 2010 while he was still recovering from major knee surgery that ended his senior year at Parkway North. When healthy, he's spent his career as a backup tackle but last year moved to guard as senior Max Copeland's backup on the left side. A sprained ankle kept Copeland out of the starting lineup against Indiana and Arkansas State before Gatti joined the starters for the two September games. However, Gatti returned to the second unit for the season's final 10 games.
"Just to get those first couple games under the belt were nice because you're not really nervous," said Gatti, who hasn't shaved his beard since earning his undergraduate degree in May, part of the O-line's oath to unfurl beards and mullets this season.
"You're always nervous before a game, but you're not as nervous as you are if you've never played before and you're going out there for the first time. It's good to have that experience and come out and have some confidence this year."
First-year offensive coach A.J. Ricker said Gatti still has areas to improve as an interior blocker -- he played tackle his whole life until last year -- but described the fifth-year senior as a "blue collar guy.
"You like his mental aspect and his toughness," Ricker said. "I wouldn't substitute that for anything. ... He started at the bottom up and he's getting his shot now."
Gatti is just half of the rebuilt left side of Mizzou's offense line. After starting all 14 games at right tackle last year, senior Mitch Morse flipped to the left side as the backside edge blocker for quarterback Maty Mauk. Morse, who was part of Gatti's recruiting class in 2010, looks to his teammate to play another role this year.
But first, the setup.
"I get pretty tense during the games," Morse said. "I barf before every game, which is an unfortunate thing about being a captain because (the coin toss) is usually my barfing moment, the 30 seconds I get to let loose."
That's where Copeland came in last year -- and where Gatti comes into play this year.
"Max and I had a really special relationship," Morse said. "He was always able to calm me down. Now, Anthony gets to calm me down. He's just a funny dude."
Unlike Gatti, Morse has been a regular in the Mizzou lineup the last two years, starting a combined 25 games at center and right tackle. He can appreciate his linemate's longer journey to a starting job.
"Here you have a guy who's been so gracious up to this point and hasn't complained," he said. "When his time has come he's really taken full advantage of it. It shows a ton about his character. We really like guys like that."
The Tigers also like linemen with the ability to play multiple positions. Several linemen have trained at both guard and tackle, giving the staff some flexibility should an injury occur during the season. Junior Taylor Chappell, a natural tackle, has practiced at guard some during preseason camp. Redshirt freshman Nate Crawford switched from defensive tackle to offensive guard during the offseason but has since moved to left tackle.
"Last year we were healthy and really got good up front because the same five guys were working together," MU coach Gary Pinkel said. "We still have to be prepared."
Gatti, too, can play multiple positions.
"Thank the Lord for keeping me healthy and keeping me on the right path and the coaches for believing in me," he said. "It's a great chance. Now I just have to capitalize on it."
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