Born: January 24, 1981

He grew up in Jefferson City and, because he was invited to the Adidas ABCD camp in New Jersey ahead of his junior year in high school, he probably could have gone out of state to play college football and basketball.

However, Justin Gage chose to stay close to home.

“I was always intrigued by Division I colleges that held their state’s name, such as North Carolina, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Texas, etc.,” Gage said. “I wanted to play on that stage but also wanted to bring some notoriety to the state I was raised in.  Also Justin Smith (MSHOF 2019) was a guy I grew up playing sports with, and he committed to Mizzou the year before me. When I saw the success he was having, I knew I wanted to and could be a part of that.”

What a career it became, as Gage surged to stardom at the University of Missouri in football and basketball, and later enjoyed an eight-year stretch in the National Football League. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Gage with the Class of 2022.

Gage was a two-time All-State defensive back at Jefferson City (1997, 1998), and All-State in basketball in 1999.

In football, he moved from quarterback to wide receiver. Gage went on to earn First Team All-Big 12 Conference honors from the Associated Press in 2001 and 2002. His 2,704 career yards receiving rank second in school history and his 200 receptions are third-most.

And that’s just a glimpse into the record book, where his name seems to be everywhere.

At Mizzou, he also helped the 2002 men’s basketball team reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

To be honest, one can make the case that Gage was mature beyond his years upon arriving on campus. After all, he was recruited as a quarterback under then-coach Larry Smith and agreed to move to receiver ahead of his sophomore season. By then, he had grown into a 6-foot-4, 210-pound talent – the kind that piques the interest across the coaching staff.

Three years later, he was the standard bearer for Mizzou receivers. In his first season as a receiver in 2000, he was Second Team All-Big 12 after hauling in 44 catches for 709 years and four scores. The next year, he was a First Team All-Big 12 with 74 catches and fie TDs. As a senior, he caught 82 passes for 1,075 yards and nine TDs.

His 18 touchdown receptions are sixth-best in school history, and his 84 receptions are seventh-most in a single season.

He also still holds Mizzou records for receptions in a game and receiving yardage in a game (16 and 236 vs. Bowling Green in 2002).

Along the way, he played basketball during the winter, and became a fan favorite for his diving, hustling plays. In the 2002 Elite Eight season, he averaged 16.4 minutes a game and 2.3 points.

In essence, his career traversed from football coach Larry Smith to Gary Pinkel (MSHOF Legend 2019) and, in basketball, from coach Norm Stewart (MSHOF Legend 2000) to coach Quin Snyder.

“Coach Q (Quin Snyder) took over and got the chance to see me play in the Missouri All-Star game as he was actively recruiting and wanted to see Kareem Rush and other local state talent. I ended up getting the MVP of the game,” Gage said, noting that he agreed to be a non-scholarship walk-on on the basketball team.

“School work was challenging because it often seemed like there wasn’t enough time in a day, but the accountability, discipline and work ethic (Pinkel and Snyder) preached about pushed me through.”

The year 2002 became even more special for Gage, who was a fifth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears. He then played eight seasons in the NFL, split evenly between the Bears and Tennessee Titans.

Gage had 2,958 yards receiving on 201 catches and scored 16 touchdowns covering 100 games.

Looking back, he credits many for his success, especially his parents, Al and Ernestine, sisters Erica and Tiffany, and brothers Richard, Andrew, Ben and Brian.

“I often sit back and wonder how this all happened to me and not my brothers, or my friends I grew up with, or even some of my teammates as I continued to grow,” Gage said. “Although I don’t think there’s clear answer, I contribute it to the path I followed and the many people along the way who have encouraged and inspired me.”