It took Alec Abeln half a heartbeat to decide he wanted to be a Missouri Tiger. Maybe it was because Mizzou was always close to his heart. Maybe it was because it’s in his DNA. A 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior offensive lineman at St. Louis University High, Abeln always wanted to be a Tiger.

Then again, his mother was a tiger. Well, not just any old tiger, she was Truman, Mizzou’s mascot. While attending Mizzou, Ablen’s mother, Julie, was a cheerleader. At some point someone asked if she’d be willing to don the costume and prowl around as the lovable mascot. She agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now her son will matriculate to Mizzou, and he’ll be the one Truman is cheering for on the football field—that is if anyone notices him.

Away from the football field, it’s hard not to notice Ablen and his fellow linemen. They’re almost larger than life. They’re so big it makes you wonder where they buy clothes. On the field, however, the offensive line might as well be invisible. Rare is the day anyone focuses on great blocking. We’re much too busy following the football into the quarterback’s hands who then gives it to a running back or a receiver. And you know what? That’s the way Abeln likes it. “We take pride in (being away from the spot light),” Abeln says. “We do our job and are humble about it. We don’t need that other stuff.”

To the uninformed eye it might appear that an offensive lineman is a big tub of goo whose sole responsibility is stand in front of a defensive player and keep him away from the quarterback. Nothing could be further from the truth. The offensive linemen are among the brightest players on the field. They have to process an inordinate amount of information in mere moments. When he reaches Mizzou in the fall of 2013, Ablen will play the center position. That’s one of the most challenging positions on the field because he must coordinate how the offensive line will block the defense. He has to figure out if the defense is going to blitz and, if so, where it’s coming from. Then he has to rearrange the blocking assignments for all the other lineman. And he has to do it before the play clock expires. Never mind the business of actually coming out of your stance, moving your feet and being strong enough to corral a massive hunk of muscle hell bent on crushing the quarterback. But, for a lineman, it’s all in a day’s work. It’s something that only they truly can understand. “There’s definitely a bond between offensive linemen,” Ablen, 17, says. “Deep down at practice, we know no one else goes through what we go through. As a group, we understand each other.”

And Ablen understands plenty. Brighter than a 100 watt bulb, Abeln only considered the Ivy League before committing to Mizzou last month. He went on visits with SLUH senior quarterback Trevor McDonagh who was making the rounds at the Ivy schools with his eyes on continuing his playing career. Ultimately Ablen decided that he could get a dynamite education at Mizzou and play top-flight football in the Southeastern Conference. That combination was impossible to beat. “You only get to play football for four years. Then you have to work for 40,” Ablen says. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”