Offensive linemen don’t get the flashy statistics like touchdowns, yards gained, receptions, completed passes or tackles. Instead, they measure success by wins and losses and by sheer feeling about the opponent and the will the keep going, play after play.
Anoka sophomore lineman Jesse Heifort is learning what that means in his so far brief varsity experience.
The 6-foot, 3-inch 290-pound lineman said the transition from playing against kids his own age to kids his own size has taken some adjustments.
He made the rare leap from the freshman team to the varsity ahead of the fall season and began the season as a 15-year-old going against 17-and 18-year-olds. He recently turned 16.
“Biggest, faster strong and better at what they do,” he said. “There’s a lot more focus on the little things that go on. It’s different being around guys as big as you.”
Besides feeling comfortable lining up with the varsity squad on Friday nights, Heifort said that aggression to move the other guy has yet to poke through.
Anoka’s offensive line has gone through some changes that hasn’t helped form the kind of chemistry yet to know what everyone else is thinking.
“Because of the injuries on like half the line, they’ve really accepted me as their own,” Heifort said.
He pointed to fellow lineman, senior Quinn Owens for showing him some of the nuances that have helped him each week. “He just shows me the little things I can do at practice and he’s really helped me feel like part of the team even though I’m younger than them,” Heifort said.
Last winter Heifort picked up wrestling and immediately became the Tornadoes starting heavyweight wrestler, posting an 8-10 record. He didn’t face Coon Rapids standout Michael Burkhardt because of a double ear infection, but went to camps with Burkhardt and a few other top wrestlers from the area.
Over the summer Heifort put in a lot of time in the weight room to boost his strength. He went from a 220-pound max bench to 275 and increased his squad and clean, too.
Getting up to speed on technique on the varsity side seems to come easier with the passing game instead of the subtle differences in the Anoka running attack. “Passing is a lot easier because you’re just a big wall, basically but with the running game you have blocking schemes and angles like hips versus chest and where your positioning has to be right on,” Heifort said. “It’s a lot more technique.
“I’m a lot more focused on the little things now since I’m as big as everyone else instead of being the biggest kid out there.”
Even with the age discrepancy, offensive coordinator Matt Stolski likes Heifort’s footwork and is working on building that aggression to match his size to overload the opposition.
“He’s still learning week-to-week, but there is no doubt we’d like to use [his size] more in the offense,” Stolski said.
Head coach Jeff Buerkle is quick to point out Heifort’s positive attitude. “He’s a good kid with a great attitude,” Buerkle said. “He’s very positive. He does make mistakes but he’s promising. I know we’ve got a ways to go with him though.”
That learning curve continues to grow as Heifort faces faster and stronger players at varsity instead of the younger levels of Anoka football, he said.
The reality of playing under the Friday night lights came alive as he stepped on Goodrich Field for the first time in the home opener against Andover. “I got out there and saw the lights for the first time against Andover and I was super nervous,” he said.
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