From left, center J.C. Hassenauer, right tackle Keith Gordon and left tackle Matt Kelly form the heart of the East Ridge offensive line. Photo: Joel Koyama • firstname.lastname@example.org
Offensive linemen love creating those holes.
"Especially when they're big enough to fit a semi through. Those are the best," Keith Gordon said.
East Ridge hopes it will have plenty of those this fall, with Gordon, Matt Kelly and J.C. Hassenauer. Together, they make up a budding, bludgeoning core at the heart of the East Ridge offensive line.
"Our offense is pretty beefy, to say the least," said Gordon, a 5-10, 280-pound tackle. "It's going to be hard to stop us."
With a year of experience, the junior trio is bigger, quicker, stronger and smarter -- with room to grow.
They're considerably ahead of where they were last season. All three made the jump together from freshman football to Friday night lights on the Raptors' varsity squad. That's no easy transition, especially in the Suburban East Conference.
Now that they're returning, the players have the ability to use different skills and techniques they hope will improve the offense.
"We had to catch up on things. We didn't already have that varsity speed. We do now," Kelly said. "We know a lot of the plays now, so I feel way better than last year. Now I can help others instead of them helping me."
These three have been holding down the line together since they were eighth-graders in the East Ridge traveling football program. With Hassenauer (6-2, 270 pounds) at center, Kelly (6-foot, 260 pounds) stands at left tackle with Gordon on the right. They also play on the defensive side of the ball.
For Gordon, that year was critical, not only developing relationships with his new teammates, but learning from them. Gordon felt he was a bit behind the curb when it came to technique.
"The stuff they learned in third grade I had just learned that eighth-grade year," Gordon said. "They took some of their own time to help me figure it out."
All three have collegiate potential. Hassenauer, the most highly touted of the three, spent the offseason traveling and participating in combines and camps around the country. College coaches most certainly have taken notice. The skilled center has garnered interest from schools all over, including the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12, Big East and ACC.
Originally from California, Hassenauer moved to Minnesota six years ago. He brought a wealth of knowledge, skill and experience from the football hotbed of Southern California.
He has seen the chemistry between trio get better with every play.
"We can always tell when the other person is down or if we don't understand a play," Hassenauer said. "We know what their traits are. We know what's going on with each other."
Hassenauer, Gordon and Kelly and teammates hope to bolster East Ridge the Suburban East Conference standings this year. As all three continue to work and grow together, their relationship has only strengthened the line.
"I think it's a little more than friends," Gordon added. "I think we all have the same views on football. It's more than a sport. It's a competition and a passion."
And there's still two full varsity seasons for East Ridge to reap those rewards.