Features | Friday Night Drive

Offensive line experience a big factor for Morris

Four starting linemen return from last season’s 10-1 team

MORRIS – Last season ended too early as far as Morris is concerned.

Morris stormed through the nine-game regular season undefeated, then secured a 42-0 win over LaSalle-Peru in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. The season came to an unexpected half via a 28-24 loss to Morton in the second round on Morris’ home field.

Those that are returning – including offensive linemen Justin Hemmersbach, Nick Perry, Aidan King and Justin Newman, along with coach Alan Thorson – haven’t forgotten.

“That score is hanging on the wall in the weight room,” said Hemmersbach, who will be a fourth-year starter – the first in Thorson’s 13 years at the helm. “That has given us motivation all through the offseason. We were a pretty tight group last year, and it hurt to see the seniors lose too early. We don’t want that to be us this year.”

Hemmersbach is the anchor of a group that hopes to pave the way to erase the sting of that defeat. Besides him at right tackle, right guard Nick Perry is entering his third year as a starter, while King and Newman will be starters for a second season. Only center Mason Stapleton will be a first-time starter this fall.

“It’s a nice place to start, with four linemen returning,” Thorson said. “If we need a yard or two, going behind a four-year starter in Hemmersbach and a three-year starter in Perry is probably a pretty safe bet.

“The thing is, Hemmersbach has been a four-year starter, but he’s the littlest guy on our offensive line. He’s probably around 255-260 pounds right now. I would say we will average about 280 across the line when the season starts.”

Justin Hemmersbach (right) is one of four starting offensive linemen returning this fall for the Morris football team. Hemmersbach is the first four-year varsity starter in coach Alan Thorson's 13 seasons.

The returning quartet, along with the graduated Parker Pierce, helped Morris rush for more than 250 yards a game last season and more than 400 total yards a game.

“We take a lot of pride in the numbers the offense puts up,” Perry said. “The guys who carry the ball and throw and catch it get all the attention, but we know that doesn’t happen if we don’t do our job.”

During the summer, much of the team’s time is spent taking part in 7-on-7 drills and competition that highlights the skill positions. The linemen, meanwhile, work in relative obscurity.

“This is where you win,” Hemmersbach said during a summer weightlifting and conditioning session. “The hard work comes here. Here’s where we outwork the other teams. By the time a Friday night comes around, that’s the fun part. That’s why we have worked so hard in the offseason.”

Both Hemmersbach and Perry have received offers from Division II schools such as Concordia of St. Paul, which has offered both players. They also have been to camps at various colleges. Hemmersbach has attended camps at North Dakota [last week] and Northern Illinois and plans to attend camps at Illinois State, Western Illinois and Valparaiso before the summer is done. Perry has been to camps at Ball State, University of Illinois and Northern Illinois.

“I loved it out at North Dakota,” Hemmersbach said. “It’s beautiful country, and they play good football. One of my teammates [running back/linebacker Sam Reddinger] got an offer from them.

“Right now, we are working on strength and power, and also a lot of speed and agility work. We are going through a lot of drills and getting all of the plays down. We are trying to teach all the younger guys.”

Perry said he is hoping to get more college offers but is concentrating on the upcoming season.

“All of us are working hard,” he said. “The score of the Morton game is up in the weight room to push us every day. We want to have another good season.”