East Ridge’s J.C. Hassenauer signed with national powerhouse Alabama, calling playing for Nick Saban a big opportunity.


“Where’s your tie?” is how one friend greeted East Ridge football standout J.C. Hassenauer on Wednesday morning.

The crimson letter ‘A’ over the left breast pocket of Hassenauer’s shirt showed he dressed for success. Hassenauer is just the second Minnesotan, and first since 1925, to sign with Alabama.

Hassenauer, a 6-3, 300-pound center, signed his national letter of intent on Wednesday after making a verbal commitment in August to play for one of college football’s storied programs.

“The dream has become a reality,” Hassenauer said. “It’s a big opportunity for me. I’m really blessed to have this opportunity and I’m really happy for it.”

Hassenauer was joined at the signing ceremony by Raptor teammates George Behr, a tight end who signed with Rutgers, and wide receiver Xavier Cole, who plans to play at Concordia (St. Paul). Soccer player Jaden Vogelgesang (Minnesota State Mankato) and runner Bailey Ness (Minnesota) also signed at the at the high school in Woodbury.

Behr, who sported a bow tie with flecks of Rutgers’ scarlet, is already looking ahead to Oct. 22, 2016 when the Scarlet Knights play at TCF Bank Stadium.

He will be joined at Rutgers, which joins the Big Ten next fall, by former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson.

Hassenauer is also tracking time via a cellphone app counting down the days until he departs East Ridge for Alabama in May.

“He’s very confident in himself and I think he wants to get down there and prove that he’s worthy of that honor,” said his mother, Tory Hassenauer. “He’s worked very hard to get where he’s at and we’re very proud of him.”

Tory Hassenauer said the family visit to Tuscaloosa left them awestruck.

“The athletic facilities — you’ve never seen anything so beautiful,” she said.

Hassenauer thanked family, friends, coaches and trainers for helping him on his journey from a 5-10, 180-pound freshman with big dreams to one of the nation’s most coveted players. A four-star recruit (on a one-to-five scale), Hassenauer chose Alabama over Vanderbilt and the Gophers.

“Many people have asked me why,” Hassenauer said, who said he always responded, “academics are No. 1 and me and the coaching staff have a great relationship.”

East Ridge running back Nick Leach, whose promising senior season was cut short by a knee injury, is expected to walk on at Minnesota.

Raptors coach Mike Pendino said Gophers coaches told him that they want Leach as a preferred walk-on.

“They just have a couple of administrative things they need to get done to get it through,” Pendino said.