Cannon ball: A message, a mentality and a makeshift rideshare service

Former walk-on Cannon York made his first start on Nov. 21 against South Carolina and received a scholarship three days later.
Missouri DL Cannon York smiles as he talks to reporters on Nov. 24, 2020. Screenshot from Zoom Interview

John and Tammy York received a FaceTime call from their son, Cannon, three days after he started his first game against South Carolina. When they opened the call, they were surprised to find that it wasn’t Cannon York on the other end of the line.

Instead, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz greeted the Yorks with a stone-cold expression.

“I’d like to discuss something that happened at practice earlier today,” Drinkwitz said.

John York’s first thought was that Cannon had been injured, which would have been terrifying. For his son to spend two-and-a-half years as a walk-on, finally making it into the starting lineup, only to go down during a Tuesday afternoon in practice? That would devastate him and his family.

Luckily, Drinkwitz — part-time football coach and full-time troll — didn’t keep the Yorks with bated breath for long. He let them know that earlier in the day, Missouri put Cannon York on scholarship.

“I can’t describe my reaction,” Cannon York said. “Some guys in the locker room will probably tell you I started bawling like a baby.”

His parents were emotional when they found out, too. And for them, it wasn’t just about York’s tuition becoming significantly less expensive, starting January 2021.

It was about a culmination of belief and trust in their son, who chose to forgo multiple Division-II scholarship offers in order to chase his dream school, and who earned a reputation as one of the hardest workers on the team.

Growing up in Lebanon, Mo., Cannon York said he first developed a passion for the Tigers around the time he developed the ability to pass a kindergarten math lesson.

So one can imagine his excitement when a few years later, his parents told him that they would make the 110-minute drive to Faurot Field to see No. 1 Oklahoma come to town.

“We were actually on the hill, by the rock M,” John York said. “I’m sure he would probably tell you it was pretty cool watching the goal post leave the stadium.”

York’s high school coach, Will Christian, could see it, too. While he only coached him for four years, Christian helped run Lebanon’s youth and junior high programs, and John York had helped out with the high school team in the past.

Because of his dad’s involvement, Cannon York had been around the team often, attending almost every game as a kid. As a result, Christian watched the future Tiger grow up.

“He had a lifetime passion and dream to be a Tiger,” Christian said. “We went to the University of Missouri football camp, as a team, up until the year they no longer had the team camp. And you could just tell even in that, with his family and him, that there was a love affair.”

Once he arrived at high school, York quickly proved that he was good enough to play at the next level — during his sophomore year, he dominated Columbia’s Battle Spartans in a playoff game that ended in a close loss — but some questioned where he would fit in a Division-I defense.

“A lot of coaches would consider him a tweener,” John York said. “He’s not really big enough to be an interior defensive lineman, but he’s also a little bit bigger than the linebackers. So in high school, he was always kind of caught trying to figure out what the best position for him would be.”

Early in the summer before his senior year, York attended a camp at MU, where he performed well.

Shortly after the workouts were done, however, they spoke to graduate assistant Neal Renna, who coached at Missouri at the time.

“Look, for you to get an offer from Mizzou, here’s some things you need to do,” Renna told the York family. “You need to go out, and you need to get a bunch of offers, get some attention, prove that you’re a competitor. And, you know, maybe something will work out for you here at Mizzou.”

York took that advice and ran with it. He spent the entire summer going to different combines and camps at different schools.

“The most exciting thing for Cannon, to get those offers from all those colleges, was he had the ability to relay that to coach Renna at the time at Mizzou,” John York said. “He was trying to build a better resume to get to go to Mizzou.”

Christian noticed the work York put in over the summer as well.

“I think that the progression from his junior year to his senior year… we saw him take his game to another level,” Christian said.

York received a preferred walk-on offer from the Tigers in August of that year, but the decision wasn’t clear-cut for him or his parents. He had opportunities to play with a full scholarship, and John and Tammy York knew that paying for college was a significant financial commitment.

Ultimately, they let their son go with his heart.

“We felt like we had to believe in our child and let him do what we felt would make him the happiest,” John York said. “There was zero doubt Mizzou was the answer to that.”

Before Tammy York sent her son off to college, she left him with a parting message.

“We told him, ‘You’re gonna have to work harder than everybody else to prove your worth,’” Tammy York said. “He had to go in with that mindset.”

Once York arrived at Missouri, he started to do just that, and coaches noticed. In particular, then-graduate assistant Rob Snyder, who worked with the defensive line during the 2019 season, was particularly impressed.

“I coached him every day,” Snyder said. “He was a guy that immediately took a really keen interest in technique, and that’s my specialty, so him and I hit it off really quick.”

Snyder, who was a walk-on himself at LSU, appreciated the one-on-one teaching sessions that York went out of his way to facilitate. They discussed hand placement, footwork, hip movement — anything that would help him get better.

Snyder and York had individual conversations almost daily. Through asking questions about the nitty-gritty of defensive line play and forcing him to give detailed explanations, Snyder believed that York helped him grow as a coach.

“Whether it was watching film and learning the technique in a meeting session, or it was on the field, he was the first guy to ask questions,” Snyder said. “He wasn’t afraid to put himself in a vulnerable position to learn and grow.”

On the field, the main way York impressed his coaches early in his career was on scout team, where reserve players are tasked with impersonating opposing starters and giving them a look to practice against. Coaches at every level will say that impressing on scout team is the best way for a backup to call attention to himself.

As a “tweener,” York played multiple positions on defense, special teams and even offense.

“Since he’s been there, whatever you need him to do, he’ll do,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “Whether it’s we need him to play scout team O-line today or go down on scout team on the defense or give us a look on special teams, whatever it is, it’s ‘yes, sir,’ and he goes as hard as he can.”

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, it’s not my rep, I’m not gonna give full effort,’” Snyder said. “But even when he was doing the scout work and being the look guy for somebody, he was balls to the wall.”

At some point, it can feel tedious to hear testimonials about York’s work ethic. But it’s worth listening to all of them because the sheer number of people who say the same thing is staggering.

“That’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” defensive lineman Isaiah McGuire said. “So when you see him have success, it’s a blessing.”

Even Drinkwitz, who probably hadn’t heard the name “Cannon York” before arriving in Missouri in December 2019, quickly noticed what everyone else already knew.

“He’s constantly working on his craft to improve,” Drinkwitz said. “He plays extremely hard; he’s a guy that we know that we can count on to do his job. Are there attributes you wish he was better at, bigger or faster or whatever? Absolutely, but he makes up for it with work ethic and toughness, and we’re extremely proud of him.”

York worked his way onto the depth chart this season, where he spent most of the year behind Trajan Jeffcoat at the “buck” position, essentially a stand-up defensive end spot. When Jeffcoat went down prior to the South Carolina game, York was the natural replacement.

Jeffcoat was healthy enough to play against Vanderbilt, picking up a sack and a forced fumble by screaming off the edge past an overmatched offensive tackle in the process, but Drinkwitz, Walters and defensive line coach Brick Haley limited his reps. As a result, York started that game as well.

His teammates were thrilled, primarily because of Cannon York, the person.

“I would say the main thing that speaks to his character [is that] a lot of us freshmen don’t necessarily have a car, and he’s one of the first people to ask, ‘Hey, you need a ride?’ or this or that, whatever it is,” McGuire said.

When asked about it later, York laughed.

“Uber Cannon,” York said. “I got five stars right now.”

York meant so much to Snyder that despite only working together for one year, he became “super emotional” when he found out that York had earned a scholarship. When he left Missouri, Snyder feared that York wouldn’t get recognition for what he did.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Snyder said. “I shed a single tear.”

The locker room reaction when Drinkwitz said the words that changed York’s life — “If you’re gonna start for us, we’re gonna put you on scholarship” — was overwhelming.

“To see his reaction and the team’s reaction when Drink broke the news, that was special,” Walters said. “Those are the moments you remember all the time, that’s why you do it, for that camaraderie, that family atmosphere. He’s definitely family to our team.”

As for York’s parents, they viewed it as a culmination. Not just of Cannon York’s efforts throughout his childhood, high school career and Missouri career to achieve a scholarship from the program he loved but of their trust in their son.

“You want to believe in your kids,” Tammy York said. “We never doubted him.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell |

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