AURORA – Coaches say that the seeds of success are planted in the offseason.
Who knew they were talking about watermelon seeds?
A watermelon eating competition was just one event for local linemen at the 16th annual “Battle of the Big Butts" Thursday at West Aurora. A linemen’s version of a 7-on-7, various events tested physical strength and endurance, such as bench press, truck tire flip relay and tug-of-war, while others like the 40-yard dash and agility course tested speed. Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles East were all represented with respective teams of varsity and underclassmen linemen.
Batavia team No. 2, a squad consisting of the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen, finished third place in the double elimination tug-of-war competition. The unit was near the top of the leaderboard in many categories throughout the day and finished just four inches behind Downers Grove South in the medicine ball toss.
“Our top teams were in the top two or three in almost every event. That’s what we hope for,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “There’s an enthusiasm at our school with the number of kids that want to be linemen. We’re very proud of that.”
Batavia team No. 1 was tops in the team 40-yard dash with a combined time of 27.1 seconds among five runners. Jake Hlava had the best individual time in the agility course among all competitors. West Aurora used Fully Automatic Timing to combine all of the runners' times, although that usually adds about .2 seconds to the time, according to several coaches.
Not to be outdone, Geneva’s No. 1 team won the tire flip relay with a time of 1:42, and tight end Jack McCloughan had the best individual time in the 40-yard dash at 5.1 seconds.
The rival schools had a little head-to-head competition as each No. 1 team faced off in the tug-of-war competition, with Geneva’s team of McCloughan, Matt Loberg, Ben Baker, Jonathan Boenzi and Stephen Kemp claiming victory.
Piron said that he believes linemen competitions are more important than the often publicized skill players' 7-on-7 competitions.
“It’s a physical competition, that’s what football is,” Piron said. “If your quarterback gets sacked every play, you can be the best 7-on-7 team in the world, you’re not going to do anything.”
Geneva coach Rob Wicinski was happy with the work that his team did, although he doesn’t believe results will translate directly onto the field in the fall.
“There isn’t a lot of football in it, but it’s a lot of fun,” Wicinski said. “I think it’s more team-building than anything else and having fun. It gives the linemen a chance to be together.”
The silliest part of the day was the watermelon eating contest that pitted the linemen against a quarter of watermelon with one minute to consume as much as possible. Batavia sophomore Matt Cotten won the underclassmen competition, while St. Charles East’s Will Leite advanced to the finals of the varsity competition but couldn’t bring home the title.
Linemen all peeled off their shirts for the eating competition and the ensuing carnage was something that more belonged on the Discovery Channel than ESPN. Fingernails frantically clawed out fruit and stuffed into mouths already packed to capacity. A steady stream of juice and fruit chunks flowed from the overflowing mouths of competitors – splashing on bare chests and leaving behind puddles of sticky juice and scraps of fruit that escaped the eating bloodbath.
For especially nauseated eaters, it was difficult to tell what was going down and what was coming back up. Event coordinators used hoses and brooms to keep watermelon casualties on the table and ground from reaching unbearable levels.
Cotten, whose brother won the varsity competition a year ago, said his approach was simple.
“You got to use your hands to mash it up,” said Cotten, who said his second go-around with the watermelon in the finals was easier than the first. “Just shovel it in.”