The East Ridge Raptors stand at 7-1 heading into Friday's sectional showdown with Forest Lake. Scout had an opportunity to stop in to one of the team's practices this week as they prepare for that contest.
Head coach Mike Pendino has a strong squad this year, lead by several Division-1 recruits. Missing from the session was senior center J.C. Hassenauer, who is out with an injury. Hassenauer is committed to Alabama, the school who offered him following a strong camp performance in Tuscaloosa. What the Crimson Tide saw was what Pendino already knew: Hassenauer has the complete package.
"He's got a mean streak to him and you can't find kids with that kind of mean streak," Pendino said, "and that's what he's got. Besides that, he's got a great work ethic. It means a lot to him, it's what he wants to do. Football is J.C., but what separates him is his work ethic. Of course, he's athletic and 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, but he's got the nastiness to him that they look for at the Division-1 level."
Pendino added, "J.C., when off the field, is a great kid to hang around with. He is very respectful and helps others."
Rutgers commit George Behr. (Scout.com photo)
Hassenauer is one of two seniors who had college coaches from major programs stopping through Woodbury during the evaluation periods. The other was tight end George Behr, who jumped on his first scholarship offer from Rutgers. Rather than rest on his laurels after making his choice, Behr has instead upped his game and the results have been noticeable.
"What was holding George back was being that physical presence and I tell you what, he has been the biggest surprise because he has been physical, knocking folks down, and he's got a great attitude. The kids have really rallied around him. He was a little shy and quiet, but he's shown great leadership and great physicality and of course he's 6-foot-5, 225, 230, and he's got great body control and can run and catch the football."
When Pendino coached at Holy Angels in Minneapolis, he had a future 1st Round pick and NFL star on his squad in Larry Fitzgerald. He believes he has a similar talent in sophomore quarterback Seth Green, who already holds three scholarship offers at this early age. Beyond his athleticism, his coach says the early attention has done anything but go to his head.
"Seth has got it all. He's got the it factor, he's got the maturity, he's very humble, he can throw the ball, he can run, I mean, I was fortunate enough to have Larry Fitzgerald in high school and I compare him to Larry Fitzgerald in all those qualities."
The same colleges who came in for Hassenauer and Behr should have plenty of others to come back for in addition to Green, as there are several more precocious young players on the roster incuding sophomore defensive tackle Jojo Garcia and fellow class of 2016 prospect Kjetiel Cline.
"Jojo's a 15-year old kid that's almost 6-foot-4, 276 pounds, physical, big, strong kid. He's going to be a heck of a player. Our wide receiver-defensive back Kjetiel Cline has great speed, athleticism. I think both of those kids are going to be blue-chip, can't-miss Division-1 players."
Then there is freshman running back Dominik London, who has started several games for the Raptors. Fellow freshman Grant Ryerse has handled all of the kicking and punting duties and has the look of a future Division-1 player. 6-foot-6 junior defensive end Freddy Gillespie is one Pendino says has great potential and simply needs to add weight in the offseason.
These players have been part of a turnaround the school has had, from 3-7 in 2011 to 5-5 last season and now their current 7-1 mark. The seniors are looking to go out on top and in the process, have helped to inspire the younger players at the school, letting them know it is more than possible to be recruited at the highest level at East Ridge.
"There are a lot of kids now already talking about the offseason and what they have to do and they want that opportunity and that's the way it should be," Pendino said. "Kids should have big dreams. I think any high school player would love to play in the NFL and it all starts with that dream and having to go out and do it. Granted not everyone is going to have the athletic ability to get to all those levels but if a kid works hard enough and does everything he's supposed to do, he's going to find a niche for himself and that's what it's all about."