With the loss of All-Big 12 linemen Rob Droege and A.J. Ricker after the 2003 season, there were concerns heading into this season about the play of the offensive line.
Senior Scott Paffrath filled the leadership void among the linemen, however, and has molded the inexperienced group into a solid unit.
Paffrath said he does not look at himself as a team spokesperson, but senior guard Joe Gianino said Paffrath, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle, has excelled in that role this season, and as a result, has helped the line become solid.
“He does a great job as a vocal leader,” Gianino said. “He’s been a starter for three years, as I have myself, and this whole offseason we kind of came together. We knew we had to get these young guys ready. So, that’s been our focus, to bring this unit together and making sure there’s been no setbacks and for the most part, I think we’ve played pretty well up front.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself a vocal leader, Paffrath does admit to speaking up when the situation demands it.
“I probably am with the offensive line more than anything,” Paffrath said. “I try not to say a whole lot; I say something when something needs to be said. I think people that talk too much sometimes tend to fall on deaf ears when you do that, so I just try to say something when it is needed and sometimes it may not be needed, but I’m still going to say something.”
Paffrath, while discouraged with the path his senior season has taken, has used his spot as a leader to bolster Missouri’s future. He is showing redshirt freshmen Tyler Luellen and Adam Spieker the tricks to playing offensive line. Gianino said that task is nothing special; instead it is part of the seniors’ job to prepare the underclassmen.
“But that’s our job. People did it for us when we were younger,” Gianino said. “They are redshirt freshmen. Scott and I got on the field when we were redshirt sophomores and that whole year is just a whole different deal. Redshirt freshmen, I mean you have to learn a lot. Those two young guys have come a long way and are doing pretty good.”
Paffrath agreed with Gianino that it is something former Tigers A.J. Ricker and Rob Droege did for him, but he said the best part of the role is the trust his teammates show in him.
“It feels good first of all that they can trust enough in us, and I’d hope that they trust enough in us in what we tell them,” he said.
Paffrath also said there are differences between the lessons that were taught to him and the lessons he is imparting on the newcomers, but the change could lead to big results in the future.
“And as things go, things are going to change a little bit, so we change the way we talk to the guys and the way we treat them,” Paffrath said. “They’re a little bit younger and going into a position a little different from what Joe and I were around. But those guys are picking it up pretty well and have matured a whole lot. I think this year is going to be huge for them.
“But it’s nice to see them develop because pretty soon those guys are going to be pretty good ballplayers and they’re going to be on a lot of watch lists and things like that before their careers are over.”
With his career winding down, the senior offensive tackle is not certain what his future holds, but in his time with the Tigers he has found home.
After growing up in St. Louis, Paffrath moved around before his parents settled in Trabuco Canyon, Calif. But to Paffrath,
California was not home. His desire to return to the Midwest, and the presence of family remaining in the St. Louis area, led him to play for the Tigers.
“California really isn’t my style; it’s a little different out there,” Paffrath said. “I have family close and at the time (of deciding to attend Missouri) my brother still went to Illinois State, so he wasn’t that far away.”
Even with the longing for home, it still took more for Paffrath to end up in Columbia; it took a connection between Bob Johnson, his high school coach at Mission Viejo, and then-Missouri coach Larry Smith for Paffrath to become a Tiger.
Johnson’s son, Rob, played for Smith at the University of Southern California from 1991-92. The coaches knew each other and Paffrath soon signed to play for Smith.
“I wanted to come back this way and he knew Larry and it kind of went from there,” he said.
While the Tigers have struggled this season to win games, Paffrath has struggled, despite his vocal abilities, to change the mindsets of friends back in California. He said most know little about Missouri or the Big 12 Conference.
“People in California don’t really understand Big 12 football, I don’t think, all they know is Pac-10 football, and I go back sometimes and people ask where Missouri’s at.”