HILLSBOROUGH — Practice was never this much fun.
Eighty beefy linemen were more than happy to get outside on a hot, sunny day at Cedar Ridge High School and run through a series of drills that, were they held at the end off a two-hour fall practice, might elicit groans.
The inaugural Cedar Ridge Lineman Challenge on May 21 was an unqualified success.
"This is cool. I'm loving it," Cedar Ridge senior Dane Marino said, raising his voice over his teammates' cheers at the sled pull. "The best thing is the teamwork. You get all pumped up for everyone's performance. It's great."
The challenge consisted of five-man squads competing for points in a series of eight strong-man events, like the farmer's walk, where linemen were timed as they toted a huge barbell in each hand over 10 yards, or the sled pull, where they hauled a weighted sled over a set distance.
"We did really well on the farmer's walk," Millbrook captain Lewis Crumsey said. "Our team killed it on that."
The day also included more typical events, common to college or pro combines, like the 40-yard dash, the bench press and an agility shuttle.
Southern Pines Pinecrest did better than anyone else, winning won six of the eight events and finished with 68 points. Carrboro, which won the timed 40s, was second in the team standings with 36 points. Millbrook sent two squads to the challenge; its A team finished third with 25 points. Chapel Hill (23) was fourth and South Lenoir (22) fifth. They were followed by Burlington Williams (21), Millbrook B (13), Pinecrest B (10), East Chapel Hill (8) and Cedar Ridge (3).
"We've got a good range of kids here, from good high school players to potential Division I athletes," Cedar Ridge coach Joe Kilby said. "It's just good for all these kids to compete."
Kilby, who coached in Texas and at Leesville Road before taking the head coaching job last year at Cedar Ridge, got the idea from his years in the Lone Star State, where the faithful sometimes treat high school football almost as a religion.
Quarterbacks and receivers get to play in seven-on-seven passing leagues in the offseason, he noted, while linemen are usually relegated to lifting weights, mixed in with some wind sprints.
"Linemen never get the opportunity to go against other schools in the offseason, the way the skill players get to compete," Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh said. "I told our linemen, this is your seven-on-sevens."
Crumsey agreed with most lineman polled that the tire flip was the favorite event. Each of a team's five players had to lift and flip a huge tractor tire end-over-end across a 10-yard span.
"They all got fired up with the tire flip," Marsh said. "We use tractor tires at our practices. That's good for our D-line. They practice dropping down low, rolling their hips and using their hands when they flip them."
All of the events required the athletes to use the skills needed to dominate a line of scrimmage, making the competition as useful as any practice, and maybe even more so because the linemen threw 100 percent into every event.
"It helps at any level, in any profession, when you can see who you're competing against," East Chapel Hill coach Bill Renner said. "I want our players to come away with a sense that they can be as good as anybody out there. We have the physical tools. They need to realize it comes down to passion and work ethic."
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