Armando Rodriguez doesn't mind playing a role that falls a few yards outside of the spotlight.
Rodriguez, who will begin his senior year at Eaglecrest High School in the fall, doesn't need any adulation or attention to recognize his value as a football player. Along with his fellow linemen, Rodriguez plays an essential role every time the Raptors take the field. Without these players' physically demanding work on the offensive and defensive lines, the game would offer very little in the way of action.
"I don't want to sound conceited, but without us, there wouldn't be any touchdowns," Rodriguez said. "You could have the world's greatest quarterback, but if no one blocks, he's not that good. Eaglecrest has a great respect for us. Our coaches know that about us."
That kind of recognition is normally enough for Rodriguez and the rest of the linemen playing in the Cherry Creek School District and far beyond. While passers and runners often get more time in the limelight, these players, known casually as "Hogs," do much of the heavy lifting that makes the sport exciting.
Luckily, there's a forum designed to give Rodriguez and his fellow hogs a chance to shine.
For the past 11 years, the competition known as Hog Wars has offered a venue for the unsung heroes of Aurora high school football teams to compete on their own terms. The event, held every year at Rangeview High School, brings together linemen from different schools and different districts to compete in a contest geared toward their strengths. And those strengths are considerable.
The contest features demanding events that would make the most accomplished power lifter pause. Individual competitors flip 400-pound monster truck tires in a relay race and carry 325-pound weights across a football field in an event known as the Farmer's Walk; they press125-pound weights over their heads repeatedly in the Log Press and see how quickly they can push a massive wooden sled over a finish line. As teams, they take part in an epic tug-of-war battle and push a 35,000-pound emergency SWAT team vehicle across an empty parking lot.
All of these feats of strength have a common goal at their heart – to give some of the strongest student athletes in the city a chance to test their skills against their peers.
"This gives the kids an avenue to be successful," said Justin Hoffman, head football coach at Rangeview who hosted the event this year along with the rest of the school's staff. "From the NFL all the way down, you see that the linemen are a really tight-knit group and it's fun to watch them bond over the year."
Teams from Cherry Creek schools have competed in the event for multiple years, and the contest held on July 8 was no exception. Linemen from the Overland Trailblazers and the Eaglecrest Raptors were on hand along with teams from Denver East, Gateway and the host high school Rangeview.
Rangeview ended up on top, taking the Hog Wars trophy for the second year in a row. But both CCSD teams claimed their own specific victories. The 'Blazers took first place in one of the contest's six events and came in second in four others, earning a total score of 33. The Eaglecrest Raptor team made a strong showing despite missing two of their linemen, pushing hard to earn a final score of 21.
More importantly, both CCSD teams got the chance to bask in the spotlight for an afternoon, even as they had the opportunity to size up some of their competition for the 2015-16 school year.
"It's a great event for our big guys to come out and compete," said Overland Football Coach Seth Replogle. The 'Blazers won the Hog Wars trophy in 2012. "Our linebackers, corners, wide receivers and DBs get a chance to do 7-on-7 exercises all summer. They get their names in the paper and these guys are doing the hard work. It's great for them to get a chance to come out and shine and compete."