Longtime TV announcer Keith Jackson once lovingly labeled football linemen the “Big Uglies.”
That brute beauty was at full bore on Thursday at the Battle of the Big Butts at West Aurora High School.
The linemen competition — in its 16th season, the last nine at West Aurora — is the brainchild of former West Aurora coach Buck Drach and assistant Mike Powers while both were at St. Charles East.
Powers, now the offensive line coach at West Aurora, savors the sights and sweat of linemen going to work with another football season a little more than a month away.
“That’s where it all starts, right up front, on the O-line,” Powers said. “This is their day.”
Forty five-man varsity teams and 23 more frosh-soph groups from 20 schools were represented at the competition. Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley, Geneva and Wheaton North were among the close-by contingent, but Chicago (DuSable) and Rockford (Harlem) also were represented.
Defending Class 6A state champion Batavia brought a total of nine teams between varsity and fresh-soph. The Bulldogs’ No. 1 team included returning starters Noah Frazier and Josh Leonhard, as well as Miles Williams, Luke Swartzmiller and Jon Wall.
“It’s important to our program,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “Kids work so doggone hard in the offseason, it’s important to do this kind of stuff, fun stuff. But we are coming here to win.”
Tests of strength and skill included the bench press (number of 185-pound reps for varsity, 135 for fresh-soph), the 40-yard dash, the seated medicine ball throw, the agility drill, the tractor tire relay, five-man blocking sled and tug of war.
What growing boys like West Aurora senior Stephen Castellanos most looked forward to, though, was dessert — the watermelon-eating contest. Castellanos and others had a minute to clean off a quarter of a watermelon in a messy, gluttonous, crowd-pleasing show.
“We love it,” Castellanos said. “That’s the reward, unless you’re puking up around the place. It’s fun.”
Castellanos earlier did 32 reps of 185 pounds to win the varsity bench press. Castellanos and West Aurora linemates Sam Deisher, Karl Fowler, Hunter Siler and Hayden Sack won the bench press team competition. West Aurora also won the five-man sled pull.
“It really speaks to the hard work we put in during the offseason,” Castellanos said. “We look around at these other teams — it’s a good feeling to know that ‘Hey, we came this far, we’re ahead of the curve, we’re looking really good.’”
Batavia won the varsity 40-yard dash, while Downers Grove South won the medicine ball throw and the agility run. Geneva took the tractor tire relay. Final team totals were not yet available.
While football 7-on-7s draw attention from fans trying to sniff out the fall favorites to watch, Piron believes linemen challenges like this one to be a truer bellwether of success.
Batavia took second at a linemen challenge at Wheaton Warrenville South a couple weeks ago. Bolingbrook hosted a similar event this week.
“All the things you do in the weight room to prepare yourself as football players is somewhat measurable,” Piron said. “To me this is more valuable than 7-on-7s where there is no pass rush or blocking. If you do well in 7-on-7s, then come here and dominate, you probably have a pretty good football team.”