For most Missouri Western football players, their final game of their senior season is their final game ever. They hang up their worn-down cleats, put away the sleek Griffon helmets and walk out of the locker room for the last time. No more early lifts, no more tough practices and no more football games.
However, offensive lineman Hayden Eatinger is an exception. When Missouri Western defeated Henderson State University at the Agent Barry Live United Bowl in 2019, Eatinger walked out of the locker room with even more to prove.
In 2019, he was unanimously named First Team All-MIAA and was part of an offensive line that rushed for over 2,500 yards. Professional scouts had been attending games and practices all season to watch Eatinger play.
Head coach Matt Williamson believes that Eatinger had a great career at Missouri Western and it’s his attitude and effort that put him a step above his competitors.
“He’s a very talented kid and a very hard worker,” Williamson said. “He just shows up every single day and just wants to dominate the day, the practice, the situation, the person across from him; he’s a go-getter.”
At the end of the 2019 season, Eatinger was expecting an invitation to the 2020 Senior Bowl. He signed with an agent and began training but was disappointed when he found out he hadn’t made it.
“I got my hopes up,” Eatinger said. “In the end, they ended up running out of spots and I didn’t make the cut for that game. I was kind of upset about it, and then I got this call about the Hula Bowl.”
Like the Senior Bowl, the Hula Bowl is also a college postseason All-Star game. It dates all the way back to 1946 and takes place on the lush island of Oahu, Hawaii. The game had taken a 12 year hiatus, and Eatinger was invited to play in front of a number of scouts at its re-emergence in 2020.
“They said ‘we’d love to have you,’ and I was just excited,” Eatinger said. “I thought I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to play in a big national bowl game. It was one of the biggest platforms that I’ve been able to play on. I was super excited to get an opportunity to showcase my talents.”
On Jan. 20, Eatinger hopped on a plane and flew to Hawaii for a 7-day, all expenses paid trip. For the first few days, he was in and out of meetings, practices and interviews with scouts, but there were also opportunities for the Hula Bowl participants to venture outside the stadium.
Eatinger got to see Pearl Harbor, learn about Hawaiin culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center and help underprivileged children in Honolulu. He said the food is fresh and delicious, and the culture is very unique.
“The most shocking thing there was no matter where you went on the island, just how proud they are of their culture,” Eatinger said. “They’re so proud of where they came from and their roots, and everything is so symbolic to them.”
Before the game on Jan. 26, players performed the haka, which is a Hawaiian dance that symbolizes pride, strength and unity. Eatinger describes the dance as being very symbolic with many gestures that represent the Hawaiian culture, and said that it is something he’ll never forget.
During the Hula Bowl and the many practices leading up to the game, Eatinger was lined up next to big Division I players, including some from LSU who had played in the National Championship two weeks before. Eatinger was one of few Division II players invited and made it a point to prove that Division II athletes are just as competitive as those in Division I.
“Being able to do what I did in that week really helped me personally, but I took it upon myself to try to prove the Division II athletes can compete with those big-time guys,” Eatinger said. “That’s what I enjoyed the most about it. Just opening up a lot of eyes and proving a lot of people wrong about this kind of stereotype that they have about Division II athletes.”
Eatinger’s position coach Patrick St. Louis watched the Hula Bowl on TV and thought that Eatinger competed very well while also positively representing the university.
“He not only wants to make him and his family proud, but he wants to put the Griffons out there and show people what we can do,” St. Louis said. “You know, we’ve got a guy out here holding his own against some of the best competition in the country and they’re like, where’s this kid even from?”
Eatinger wore his Missouri Western helmets in Hawaii all week and takes pride in the black and gold.
“It was so much fun representing the Griffons out there and showing what our university is about,” Eatinger said. “Every so often something would happen and they’re like, ‘Son, where are you from? What the hell is MW?’ and I’m like, ‘Missouri Western. Check us out in the good ol’ Dirty Joe.’ That was the best part about it, because it wasn’t just for me, there was so much more.