Walking off the practice field, with helmet in hand and dirt and sweat smeared across his face, East Ridge center J.C. Hassenauer fits the mold of a high school football lineman.
He’s prototypically big — 6-3, 300 pounds — and carries himself with respect. He answers questions with the humility of someone whose football gratification is derived from pounding physical contact, play after play, all in the name of helping flashier athletes achieve yardage and stardom.
Less obvious is the vision that Hassenauer always has carried, one he’s had ever since he can remember: to play college football at national powerhouse Alabama.
What sets Hassenauer apart from many with a similar dream is that he’s turned his into a reality. In August, Hassenauer verbally accepted a scholarship offer to play center for Alabama.
When he officially signs with the two-time defending BCS champions in February, Hassenauer will be on a path to become only the second Minnesotan — and first since 1925 — to letter in football for the Crimson Tide.
Not bad for someone who, as a freshman, was two inches shy of six feet and weighed under 200 pounds. He worked on his dreams since then, and it paid off when he earned MVP honors at several spring football camps and later stood out at an Alabama camp.
“That’s always been one of the places I wanted to go,” Hassenauer said of the storied football program at Tuscaloosa. “Might as well give it a shot.”
Bigger, stronger, faster
After his freshman year, with dreams much bigger than his then 5-10, 180-pound frame, Hassenauer approached East Ridge coach Mike Pendino, wondering how he could take his game to another level.
“I knew I needed to get bigger, stronger and faster if I wanted to play college football,” Hassenauer said.
Pendino recommended he work with Ray Hitchcock, a former Gophers center who later played for the Washington Redskins. Hitchcock is currently the offensive line coach at Cretin-Derham Hall.
“He’s been my position coach, and he’s helped so much,” Hassenauer said, “it’s unbelievable.”
Hassenauer added speed and strength training at the ETS Gym in Oakdale, furthering his development. He would not have gotten a sniff from Alabama, Hassenauer said, without his training programs.
“They’ve helped me tremendously,” he said. “No way I would have gotten this far without them.”
Getting Alabama’s attention
After his sophomore season, Hassenauer decided it was time to make a mark in the football-rich Deep South. He enrolled at an Alabama football camp and immediately stood out.
“They thought I performed well and wanted to see me again after I got a little bigger,” he said. “That was one of my big motivation factors.”