A football team's offensive or defensive line isn't the place to find rugged individualism.
A typical lineman on any football team at any level isn't likely to stress their unique role on the team. Instead, they're liable to say they're a part of a greater whole, a piece of a larger collective that plays a critical part in any game. It's a message that coaches like Mike Schmitt, who helms the Eaglecrest High School football team, works hard to stress early and often.
That's why the annual Hog Wars competition held at Rangeview High School in Aurora provides such a unique opportunity for players from teams across the metro area. For the past 13 years, the contest has offered high school linemen the opportunity to compete as individuals in events that test strength, endurance and sheer grit. This year was no exception – players from seven high school football teams reported to Rangeview on July 12 to flip massive tires across a football field and lift 125-pound weights over their heads; they lugged 325-pound weights across the turf and pushed massive, wooden sleds as quickly as they could.
Schmitt and the Eaglecrest crew of linemen and coaches represented the Cherry Creek School District, along with a contingent from Cherokee Trail High School. As players strove to complete the most reps and log in the best time, Schmitt said the value of the competition was impossible to miss.
"This is a chance for them to be individuals," Schmitt said. "As linemen, they're usually told that they're part of a larger group. For them to come out and individually compete, I think that helps them."
There were plenty of opportunities for individuals to shine. Competitors flipped 400-pound monster truck tires in a relay race and lugged massive weights across the Rangeview football field in an event known as the Farmer's Walk; they pressed 125-pound weights over their heads repeatedly in the Log Press and competed to see how quickly they could push a massive wooden sled over a finish line.
Still, the spirit of comradery that is the heart and soul of any crew of linemen wasn't absent. As teams, the players took part in an epic tug-of-war battle and pushed a vintage Aurora Fire Department truck across an empty parking lot. Even during individual events, teammates were on hand to encourage and push their peers; they shared in individual victories and defeats as a single unit.
According to Brandon Alconcel, the new head football coach for Rangeview High School who led the Hog Wars competition for the first time this year, that mixture of individual initiative and team spirit is at the heart of the contest. In addition to giving the "unsung heroes" of the sport their moment in the spotlight, the event is designed to celebrate both individual initiative and team cohesion.
"Linemen are different types of personalities. They really build that comradery because of the position – all five people have to work together on the field," Alconcel said. "That mentality is a big part of this event, and it's awesome to see."
The event is, at its heart, a competition, and this year was no exception. The hosting Rangeview Raiders took the top spot, and the team celebrated its victory with all the flair and enthusiasm one would expect from any victorious athletes. Even so, the interactions between the players from all teams demonstrated a deep level of mutual respect. Players from opposing schools and teams crowded on the sidelines during individual events, shouting out encouragement to players they'd just met. A feeling of comradery extended to all players, regardless of jersey color or home school.
For linemen, regard and respect for peers run deep. It's a trait that's necessary when it comes to playing a position that can win or lose a game. Players like Calvin Rodriguez, a lineman from Cherokee Trail who'll start his senior year in August, know the importance of their role, even if it's not always recognized by fans.
"The coach always tells us that we're the heart of the team," Rodriguez said. "We do a lot, and we don't get a lot of credit like the backs and the wide receivers, but that's just the life of the lineman, I guess."
The Hog Wars contest offered players from different teams and different schools an opportunity to share the spotlight and give each other that hard-earned credit.