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East Ridge High School: Hassenauer, five Raptors make it official

J.C. Hassenauer, a senior lineman for the East Ridge football team, signed to play football for the Alabama Crimson Tide. (Bulletin photo by Matthew Davis)1 / 3
From left, East Ridge standouts Jaden Vogelgesang and Bailey Ness sign national letters of intent. Vogelgesang will play soccer at Minnesota State-Mankato and Ness will run cross country for the University of Minnesota. (Bulletin photo by Matthew Davis)2 / 3
From left, East Ridge football players J.C. Hassenauer, Xavier Cole and George Behr sign their national letters of intent on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at East Ridge High School. (Bulletin photos by Matthew Davis)3 / 3

East Ridge hosted a national signing day 89 years in the making — a Minnesotan has signed to play at Alabama again.

J.C. Hassenauer, a senior lineman for the East Ridge football team, signed to play football for the Crimson Tide on Wednesday, Feb. 5, in front of 50-plus family members, friends, coaches, classmates and faculty at the school. Five East Ridge seniors joined with him in filling a most significant piece of collegiate paper work.

“It’s a true testament to the hard work of our student athletes,” East Ride athletic director Jon Hinzman said.

Hassenauer, George Behr, Xavier Cole, Bailey Ness and Jaden Vogelgesang all signed letters of intent to compete at Division I or II programs next fall. Hassenauer and Behr in particular have beaten the high odds of going to play Division I football at Alabama and Rutgers respectively.

“There’s over 60,000 high schools in the country and only 105 schools that give scholarships,” Raptors coach Mike Pendino said. “There’s only 2,200 kids in the whole country that get Division I football scholarships. This is a tribute to how hard these kids have worked and to their God-given athletic ability.”

Hassenauer, a center, had been recruited by Alabama as his hard work and blocking made him one of the top offensive lineman prospects in the nation. The 6-3, 300-pound senior also put himself on the Crimson Tide radar when he attended football camp there in the summer. Playing for the Tide has been a lifelong dream for Hassenauer.

“Alabama was the number one school I wanted to go to,” Hassenauer said.

Each student athlete had a moment at the podium to share their excitement and thank those who help them achieve going to the next level. Behr had the benefit right in his own home of learning from his father what it would take to play a Division I sport. His father, George Behr, played baseball at the University of Minnesota after graduating from Hill-Murray in 1988.

“You’ve got to do three things – you’ve got to work out, you’ve got to take care of your school work and you’ve just got have things go your way,” Behr said.

It hasn’t changed much from father to son – just the sport. Behr puts in 4-5 days per week in the weight room training at ETS Sports Performance Training.

He has the opportunity to work with former Cincinnati Bengal player Ryan Englebert who runs ETS. Having Pendino, a former Gophers football assistant coach, as the varsity coach at East Ridge doesn’t hurt either.

“College coaches know they can ask him about the kids on the football team,” Behr said.

Behr’s and Hassenauer’s teammate Cole signed to play Division II football at Concordia-Saint Paul. Cole wanted to play close to home, and he hopes to make a quick impact for the Golden Bears, a team that reach the top 25 rankings last season. He plans to major in kinesiology.

“Just from playing sports, I became interested in how all of that stuff works,” Cole said about his major.

Behr anticipates getting on the field right away at Rutgers as a tight end after successful hip surgery during the offseason. He plans to major in sports medicine or physical therapy.

Behr will get to play somewhat close to home at time since Rutgers will join the Big Ten this year. In 2015, he may get to catch passes from another Minnesotan, Phillip Nelson, a recent transfer from the Gophers.

“It’s going to be a fun experience to have an experienced quarterback from Minnesota being out there also,” Behr said.

Behr has seen Nelson play in person but hasn’t met him yet. Nelson transferred in part because of Rutgers’ pro-style offense.

“He can throw the ball, he can run the ball, he can get the job done,” Behr said.

Hassenauer, who worked his way up from 185 pounds to 300, will look to make blocks for another pro-style offense in Alabama. He joins a highly-touted recruiting class that will strive to keep the Tide in national title contention for years to come.

“All those schools look for those linemen that have that edge to them,” Pendino said.

One thing Hassenauer will bring is his team-first attitude. He said he doesn’t have individual goals — he’s part of an offensive line.

“He’s about the team, he’s about how the line fairs,” Pendino said. “It’s not about him.”

Behr caught 22 passes for 302 yards and a touchdown. He did his share of blocking on a run-first style offense.

“It was just overall a great experience of four years with the teammates I had,” Behr said.

Raptors cross country runner Bailey Ness joined the Division I crowd as she signed to run for the Gophers in the fall. She won the Suburban East title this past season and qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals.

She will join a strong Gophers program that finished 20th at the national meet last season. The Gophers also host the Roy Griak Invitational, the biggest collegiate cross country meet in the national.

“It’s such a great team, it’s such a great coaching staff,” Ness said.

She set running Division I cross country as a goal for herself when she first started in the sport. Having parents that are runners also helped her become a better runner.

“They supported me in everything I do, whether I’m running or not running,” Ness said.

Jaden Vogelgesang, a soccer standout, signed to play soccer at Minnesota State-Mankato next season. The East Ridge senior earned All-Suburban East honors three times with the Raptors, and she stared for the Minnesota Thunder Academy for three seasons. She plans to pursue a sports medicine degree.

“It’s an honor because it’s been a dream of mine for so long,” Vogelgesang said about playing collegiate soccer. “And to finally be able to continue my soccer career after high school is a blessing, and I’m extra thankful that I have that opportunity.”

-Matthew Davis