COLUMBIA - Starting nose tackle, junior Jaron Baston, has played in every Tigers game since the 2006 season. His tackle numbers are decent but not extraordinary. He is far from a household name in Columbia.
"I try to keep a low profile," Baston said, tugging on his baseball cap and slouching lower in the auditorium chair too small for his 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame. "I stay out of the limelight."
at No. 5 Missouri (3-0)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
JACKED: Follow the game online with Jacked, a second-screen Web platform found at ColumbiaMissourian.com. Track statistics as they happen, chat with a Missourian reporter covering the game, view photos, video and links to other media, all while the game is being played.
But start to think Baston is a quiet individual and you would be mistaken. He laughed at the thought.
"Not at all. I'm the opposite of quiet," Baston said. "Everybody knows I'm the outgoing, talkative, have-fun type of person."
Baston considers himself up for anything at anytime.
"If someone said let's go jump in a lake right now, I'd go do it."
Has that happened recently?
"No, I'm just saying I'd do it."
Baston said he regularly starts up conversations with strangers on campus, asking how their day is.
"My friends will be like ‘Do you know that person?' I'm just like ‘No, I'm just talking to them,'" Baston said.
Baston's social nature would suit him well in one of his dream jobs: sports broadcaster.
"I think it'd be fun to wake up every morning and tell about the sport that you love," Baston said. "That's what I wanted to do, but it's really hard with being in football and everything. But then I realized you don't need a degree in that to do that."
Baston switched from the School of Journalism to textile and apparel management pursuing a passion for drawing and designing clothing. He changed once again to hotel and restaurant management. He said he would love to open a Cajun or seafood restaurant.
"I'm the best cook on the team," Baston said, turning to linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for backup. "Ain't that right, Spoon?"
"Best cook on the team," Weatherspoon confirmed.
"No. 2 Jared Perry. No. 3 would be me."
Baston said he regularly has cook-outs for his teammates and friends.
"Barbecue? I throw it down," Baston said. "I love to cook. I used to want to be a chef. I'd watch Emeril all the time."
Whatever he ends up doing, Baston sees himself more as an entrepreneur than someone who will work for someone else. He has a lot of ideas - and not just fall backs if he can't make the NFL. It's not that Baston doesn't love football. He just does not see himself going pro.
"I think it'd be great to be in the NFL, but I want to be a businessman," he said. "I want something I could do forever. The NFL is not forever."
It's a rare statement from a college starter on a top-ranked team, but Baston is not looking for "superstar-ism," as he called it.
"I think more people know me as a regular person or as a friend than as Jaron the football player," he said.
Still, this year might be his chance to start making a name for himself on the field. Baston is taking over for Lorenzo Williams, last year's team leader in sacks with All-Big 12 honors. Baston admits he has a hard act to follow, but he said he talks to Williams nearly every day. He thinks of "Zo" as a big brother.
"He told me, ‘Use your hands to make all-Big 12.'"
The advice comes from when the two used to room together in hotels before games and they would study other defensive players on television.
"All the best players used their hands," Baston said. "It's about using your hands to direct where you're going."
Baston will think about using his hands as he practices capitalizing on his defensive talents.
"I've got to dominate the front," Baston said. "I'm not the best pass rusher. I'm not the fastest on the field. But I can dominate a certain area."
He must be doing something right. Coaches voted Baston most-improved defensive lineman in the spring.
Coach Gary Pinkel said he has been pleased with Baston's work so far.
"He had a lot of experience coming in," Pinkel said. "You kind of pencil in a guy like that as a returning starter. He had a real good game last week."
Baston will be the first to tell you he needs to improve. He said he was disappointed with his performance in the first two games.
"I was just so happy being a starter," Baston said. "I lost track of how I got there."
When he forgets, Baston can look at his tattoos for inspiration. In cursive on the underside of his left forearm is the word "Grind" surrounded by flames. In matching script on the opposite arm are the words "Or Die" embellished with wings.
"Grind or die," Baston said. "It reminds me to just keep working hard and never stop."