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  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    José Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com The linemen helping lead Elk Grove to an impressive 2-0 start, from left to right: Noah McMahon, Marcus Worthy, Mikey Wright, Matt Loller, Noah Letuligasenoa, Casey Whalen, B'won Canada and Jaime Cruz. The group, which calls itself the Hammerheads, loves the blocking sled and succeeding despite physical limitations.

  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Elk Grove linemen hit the blocking sled Tuesday. Good blocking is not about brute strength, coach Chris Nixon said, it's about "leverage, technique and feet."

  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Jaime Cruz works on his technique during blocking-sled drills Tuesday. Elk Grove rushed for 497 yards Friday behind a line on which no player stands 6-foot or taller.

More Information

  • The List: Jack Garbolino-Mojica, Trapshooting
  • HAMMERHEADS BY THE NUMBERS

    0: Number of starting linemen who are 6 feet or taller

    1: Sac-Joaquin Section ranking of Lincoln-Stockton when Elk Grove beat the Trojans 35-21 in its season opener

    2: Elk Grove's Northern California ranking by MaxPreps.com

    4: Elk Grove linemen who are first-year starters

    5: Days a week the Herd linemen hit the blocking sled

    12: Rushing touchdowns for the Herd in two games

    15: Days until Elk Grove hosts The Bee's No. 2 Nevada Union in a meeting of wing-T experts.

    497: Yards rushing at Beyer-Modesto in Friday's 48-0 win, the most for the program since going for 577 against Atwater in the 1998 Section Division I title game

    771: Yards rushing in two games (an average of nearly nine yards per attempt)

    – Joe Davidson

    WHERE'S JOE D?

    The Bee's Joe Davidson will be at Burbank on Friday as the Titans take on Grant.

    Friday night live

    Join us from your PC or mobile device starting at 6:45 p.m. for our live chat about Friday's games. www.sacbee.com/live

    • Galleries: The Bee's photographers will be at the Grant at Burbank and the Elk Grove at Del Campo games. Look for photos during and after the games. www.sacbee.com/sportsphotos

Elk Grove's linemen small in stature, big on victory

Published: Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:06 pm

The Hammerheads are not an imposing lot, but they are proof that size doesn't dictate the outcome of a football game.

Fast feet, hand placement and desire can often counter length and bulk.

At Elk Grove High School, players embrace the nickname that graces sleeveless blue shirts that include a skull and two Thor hammers – insisting they'd wear such garb to church if not for disapproving mothers.

The linemen who do the dirty work for The Bee's top-ranked team trot to the blocking sled each afternoon to push the contraption that looks more formidable than the combatants – bulky at the bottom, steel tough in the middle.

The Thundering Herd blockers? Not one stands 6-foot or taller. Not one is generating even a sliver of college recruiting interest, yet the sled yields, moved over yards of terrain, lifted high into the air.

If not for the fences that surround the school grounds, the linemen might drive that sled up and down Elk Grove Boulevard.

"Hammerheads, it's who we are and it's a way of life," explained Herd senior Casey Whalen, a 5-9, 200-pound left guard and a team captain. "It's great to be a lineman, and it's great to know you don't have to be the biggest guy to succeed."

Only right tackle Marcus Worthy and left tackle Jaime Cruz tip the scales at more than 240 pounds for the 2-0 Herd. The others – right tackle Noah McMahon, center Matt Loller, tight end Noah Letuligasenoa, and "Z" or "X" down-field blockers Mikey Wright and B'won Canada, weigh between 175 and 205 pounds.

"Great motors," is how Elk Grove line coach Moe Loller describes his group.

The Hammerheads may not pass the initial eye test, but results do not lie. And the sled work pays dividends, ingraining fundamentals and maximizing conditioning.

Elk Grove is ranked No. 2 in Northern California by MaxPreps.com, still achieving as a wing-T running juggernaut. Herd tailbacks credit the linemen for their success.

Elk Grove opened the season with a 35-21 victory at Lincoln of Stockton (No. 1 in the Sac-Joaquin Section and No. 2 in NorCal in preseason rankings) and last Friday followed with a 48-0 rout of a 2011 playoff team, Beyer of Modesto, rushing for 497 yards behind backs Robert Frazier and Wadus Parker.

That rushing total against Beyer was the highest by the Herd since the 1998 section Division I title game against Atwater, when they went for 577. Fullback Lance Briggs, now a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Chicago Bears, ran for most of those.

Elk Grove was 14-0 that season, setting national records on offense and considered one the best teams in section history. Chris Nixon was the offensive coordinator for the Herd in 1998 and is the head coach now. He remains loyal to the linemen.

"Got to love the Hammerheads," Nixon beamed.

But Hammerheads? The origin of the name dates back to Sacramento State in the early 1980s, when coach Bob Mattos employed a power run game.

Loller was a Hammerhead on Sac State's last playoff team in 1988. Dave Hoskins, a Hornets coach for that '88 group, brought the Hammerhead mentality to Elk Grove in 1997 as co-head coach.

Loller coached for eight years in the Elk Grove junior youth program, proclaiming, "You're never too young to be a Hammerhead." Many of his former youth linemen play under him now at Elk Grove.

Nixon, a UC Davis wide receiver in the 1980s, admits it's tough to use a Sac State-born moniker.

"I had no choice," Nixon said. "The two most important people in my life right now are my line coach and my wife, Tina, and she's a Hornet, too."

Nixon studies every lineman on the sled. He'll bark, 'Hips! Hips! Hips!" to remind them of their form, and he'll stop the group to go over footwork.

Blocking, Nixon and Loller insist, is as much technique and execution as it is talent.

"It's not brute strength and a lot of slapping around in there," Nixon said. "It's leverage, technique and feet. At home, my family watches vampire movies and I'm watching 17-year-olds on the sled. It's who I am."

Loller still looks the part of a Hammerhead, thick-bodied and calves to match. Center Matt Loller did not inherit his dad's body type. The son looks more linebacker stout, but they share the same passion.

"I'm a big guy trying to get little, and we have smaller guys trying to get bigger on our line," Moe Loller said. "The sled benefits everyone … . I'm very impressed with my son. It's been so fun to watch."

The only lineman with a long face these days is guard Michael Tsukamoto. Although he hasn't been able to play, he has watched every practice until today, when he will have surgery for a broken collarbone. He was injured in a preseason scrimmage.

On Tuesday, he admitted to suffering from withdrawals.

"What do I miss the most? The sled," Tsukamoto said. "I'm crazy like that."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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