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Prep football: Kaneland O-line lets play, not size, do the talking

MAPLE PARK – Kaneland offensive linemen Jackson Clark and Drew Hahn stand 6 feet tall, but their football mentalities reflect a much larger presence.

As the two returning starters along the offensive line at center and left tackle, respectively, the pair of seniors know their worth.

Success within the trenches isn’t always determined by the measureables of an opponent opposite them. Instead, the simple desire to win the next play can make all the difference.

“Being a high school lineman, it’s not about how tall you are,” said Hahn, a three-year varsity starter, Aug. 6 during the first official day of football practice around the state. “Clark and I are only 6 feet tall, but that doesn’t affect our play.”

To Hahn, it could be an advantage – pointing to leverage and getting his pad level lower than taller opponents. The mentality of a competitor then comes into play.

“If you think, ‘Oh, I see a 6-[foot]-3 guy in front of me; he’s gonna kill me every play,’ then you’re going to get killed,” Hahn said. “You’re not going to win every play, but [if] you win most of them, you compete and [you can get close to doing so].”

Hahn’s sophomore year proved to be a learning experience. Opposite recent Kaneland graduate Matthew Payton, who now plays collegiately at Augustana College, Hahn drew the tough opposing edge rushers – learning on the fly against eventual Division I and II talents.

“It was tough my sophomore year. I stuck with it,” Hahn said. “I knew if I wasn’t in the weight room, if I didn’t study our film ... it would continue to be like that.”

Last year proved to be much more successful.

Hahn, who splits time at defensive tackle, originally came up as a linebacker and has only played on the offensive line for three years. Clark, conversely, has snapped the football to quarterbacks for the past 10 years and counting.

The position is simply “engraved” into his head.

“Just like the entire line, you’ve got to know what everyone’s doing behind you and to the side of you,” Clark said. “We’ve got a big trust in our line. Being a center, as long as you’ve got guys around you that are doing their job, it makes it easy.”

It remains to be seen who will earn the starting quarterback job between Joe Smith or Connor Buyck. It’s a decision that won’t be made until the week leading up to the season opener Aug. 24 at Hinsdale South.

Regardless of who is standing behind Hahn and Clark, they’ll be ready.

“Both guys can start,” Hahn said. “We have confidence in both of those guys.”

The confidence, inherently, is reciprocal.

“I know I can trust them,” Buyck said. “I know they got my back. They’ve been there before.”

Kaneland can showcase positional flexibility along the line, and Hahn even sees a bit of himself in rising sophomore Sam Pryor. Pryor could push for playing time in his second season on varsity, and is confident in his play to make a case to have an impact.

“[Hahn] is definitely someone I look up to football-wise,” said Pryor, who plays both guard and tackle. “He’s a great a leader. ... He teaches me on how to work hard and things I need to know when I’m in his position.”

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