Columbia, Missouri – Long before he became the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific comeback racer…before he set a record-breaking regular-season for Missouri…before he scored five games in the 200-yard dash…in college and possibly professionally .
When Badie was six years old, his family moved from New Orleans to Baltimore in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and when they settled into their new life on the East Coast, Paddy picked up a lacrosse stick and never left it.
“This is the sport,” he said, “I would have played in college.”
But again, plans have changed for the Badi family. In the middle of his high school years, his mother, Dr. Tangala Gibson, a pediatric neurologist, accepted a new job in Memphis — not exactly a lacrosse haven.
It’s time to choose.
“She told me, ‘If you want to stay in Baltimore, you can,'” Badie recalls. “But I have a job in Memphis and the sport is better there.”
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Especially the sport that would guide Badi to stardom at Mizzou and possibly beyond. In his latest interview in a series of interviews with Post-Dispatch as he prepares for this week’s NFL draft, Badie said it was the move from Baltimore to Memphis that sharpened his focus on football. Over time, this focus solidified the underdog mentality he would carry in the NFL.
But he did not forget his first love. Badi credits his lacrosse background for a skill that sets him apart from other contestants in this year’s draft. Over the course of four seasons at Columbia, for one time only as a rookie, he collected 126 passes for 1,149 yards—more than any pass in Mizzou’s history.
“Why do I hold the ball so well,” LaCrosse said. “It just starts with hand-eye coordination and the ability to receive the ball and the ability to throw the ball. It’s all of the same kind of movement, speed and ability to get past a defender, ability to run through a defender, ability to take hits with a stick. It all goes hand in hand. I feel like people don’t understand that lacrosse is more like football than any other sport.”
Baltimore is where he lived the longest 10 years during his sophomore year of high school. But Badi still calls New Orleans his home.
“This is where I took my first steps,” he said. “This is where I breathed my first air.”
Once Badie’s family moved to Memphis and he emerged as one of the area’s top runners, college recruits weren’t quite lined up outside Briarchrist Christian School. Most coaches had the same concern.
“I had all the talent, I had all the numbers and everything you needed, but I was only 168 pounds in my senior year of high school,” said Badie, who plans to watch the draft with family in Memphis. “A lot of people were like, ‘Hey, we can’t really pick you up. We want to introduce you. You are doing everything right. But we really wish you were 185 pounds.”
“I put a chip on my shoulder to show people that it doesn’t matter how big you are,” he added. “That’s why I chose the SEC, just to be on top of my game and prove everyone wrong against the best competition.”
First, though, it got Missouri attention. Cornell Ford, a former running appearance coach, was the first coach to make a home visit and made it clear that he didn’t care that Buddy was undersized by SEC standards.
Badi said, “He told me, I know what you can do, and I don’t care what people say. I’ll take a chance on you.”
Nearly five years later, similar questions followed in the NFL. Badi, who reached the finalist for the Doak Walker Prize last fall, is widely expected to be a mid-round opportunity for this week’s draft, which kicks off with the first round Thursday and runs Friday and Saturday. Only six Missouri players were selected during the last 40 draft and not one prior to the fifth round.
Badi met the first team and the Boy Scouts with representatives from all 32 teams. Much like the college recruitment process, one topic comes up more than any other.
“The first thing is always size,” said Badi, who is 5’8. “Everyone is like, ‘Okay, you’re 195 pounds. How will you hold up? I just tell them, ‘Look at the stats, look at the film’s production. It’s all there. I feel like the size doesn’t matter. It’s more about your mind game, the game outside the game and dominating the competition.”
He added, “That’s what it boils down to, because I’ve seen the biggest players fall apart under pressure. I feel like size doesn’t really matter as long as you get your work done and do it efficiently.”
As NFL scouts and pundits analyze every measurable element within an exquisite playing framework, it’s easy to overlook how uniquely prolific his 2021 season was in the context of history. Not only did he lead his 1,604 yards dash for the great SEC team, but he was also the most senior SEC player since 2018. Only 11 players in celebrity league history have rushed yards more in a single season, including four Heisman Cup winners. In just 12 games — like 11½ as he watched the second half against Southeast Missouri — Badie finished third nationally in dash yards per game (133.7, third), all-purpose yards (1,939, seconds) and yards from melee (1, 934, ii). Only one player out of the seven SEC East programs has rushed more yards in a season: former Georgia great Herschel Walker. Half of the SEC’s 14 teams didn’t dash back for more yards than Badie last season.
None of this would have been possible if he had not started what he now calls an “uncomfortable conversation” with Mezzo coach Eli Drenkewitz and linebacker coach Curtis Looper after the 2021 season. For three years, Badi’ played under the squad’s top players, notably Larry Rountree, a choice 3. for the sixth round by the Chargers last year. Drenkewitz spoke about replacing Rountree production with a retreat committee. Badi had one request.
“I just told them, ‘Hey, I’m the guy,’ just believe in me,” he said.
Badie said this was a kind of conversation, that more players should have with their coaches before they decide to go into the transfer gate to graze on greener pastures. No matter how the draft develops, Badi’s patience could define Mizzou’s legacy — far from all those arenas last fall.
“You never know when your time will come,” he said.