One would imagine Alan Baxter grew tired of the surprised looks long ago.
The Buffalo Grove native is a standout defensive end for Northern Illinois, the team leader with 5 sacks. He's been a big part of the Huskies' ascension to Mid-American Conference powerhouse.
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But he's not necessarily what someone might expect from a defensive end, certainly not in an area used to watching 6-foot-5 Richard Dent or 6-7 Julius Peppers chase quarterbacks.
Baxter is listed at an even 6-feet tall. Maybe he's a little more, maybe a little less, but there's no doubt he's different from the prototypical pass rusher.
"That knee-jerk reaction when you first see him is probably the one thing that motivates him more than anything," said Jim Farrell, Baxter's coach at Buffalo Grove High School. "The kid's not that big, but he's very motivated. He is a fierce, agile kid that plays with a ferocity not many people have in the game of football, no matter what position they're in."
Baxter isn't simply a pass-rusher, either. The senior finance major plays all four downs and earned a 4.0 grade-point average the past two semesters.
His best game was against Kansas on Sept. 22 with 2 sacks for 15 yards of losses. There were plays when he and teammate Joe Windsor tackled Jayhawks QB Dayne Crist before he'd even finished dropping back.
"He has an unbelievable center of gravity," Farrell said. "His feet never stop. His hands never stop. He gets after people. So it's no surprise that he's gone on to have a prolific college career."
After Baxter collected 5 sacks in NIU's first four games, the entire defensive line has been kept quiet the past two weeks. But when an offense focuses on one area, it can be vulnerable in another and the Huskies posted solid wins over Central Michigan (55-24) and Ball State (35-23). They'll try to extend an 18-game home winning streak today against Buffalo (2:30 p.m., CSN).
Baxter didn't make it sound like he gets too angry when people are surprised by his height. He's just used to it.
"I hear it all the time. After the game, guys will come up," he said. "I've never been the biggest, but I can play like I'm big."
Baxter had been at NIU for two years when Jerry Kill left for Minnesota and the coaching staff changed completely. New defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen was surprised more by Baxter's performance than his height, though.
"This is how the old staff recruited here," Nielsen said. "There are a couple other guys that are pretty short defensive ends. The style of defense that they played before we got here, those guys fit their style.
"You always want to go into a new job with an open mind. Probably the first or second full-pad practice we had in spring ball, I think he had like 4 or 5 sacks in that practice and from then on, he ran around, high motor, very athletic. He was pretty much unblockable."
There are a couple of good role models for Baxter in the NFL. Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney is listed at 6-1 and Denver's Elvis Dumervil at 5-11. Both players have led the NFL in sacks.
Baxter hasn't ruled out playing in the NFL, but he's not counting on it. To help prepare for a career in finance, he did an internship with BP in Naperville this summer.
Of course, Baxter didn't take the easy path to that job. Every morning, he'd work out with teammates in DeKalb at 6 a.m., then drive to Naperville, work the internship, go home and do it all again the next day.
Back at school, he's one of one 10 students that are part of NIU's Student Managed Portfolio, which invests real money, donated to the College of Business, in the stock market."
"He's an extremely driven, intelligent individual," Nielsen said. "He has his goals set out for him."
For a few more weeks, Baxter main goal will be to pursue the quarterbacks who stand in front of him.
The other pursuits can wait.