Hockinson’s big guys get it done

They want to be part of every celebration, but they also have to be smart about these things.

After all, with the Hockinson Hawks scoring at will, hustling to the end zone after every touchdown can get a bit exhausting for the guys up front.

“The first few, we’re running down there to celebrate,” said left tackle Ryan Sleasman. “By the end of the game, six touchdowns later, you gotta save your energy.”

Of course, he said that with a grin.

When the Hawks do find the end zone, they all know what it took to get there. It took all of them, executing each assignment, performing at their peak.

The 2017 Hockinson offense is the best in program history and one of the best Clark County high school has ever seen.

Offensive line’s performance gave Hockinson the time and space to become the best Class 2A offense in the state.
The Hockinson offensive linemen have paved the way for the greatest offense in school history. From left to right, Takumi Veley, Garrett Kondel, Kordell Johnson, Zac Ristau, Nathan Balderas, and Ryan Sleasmen have all played key roles for the big guys up front, helping the Hawks reach the Class 2A state championship game. Photo by Mike Schultz

But with all the touchdown passes from Canon Racanelli — he has 54 this season — and all the TD receptions from Sawyer Racanelli, Peyton Brammer, Matt Henry and the rest, none of this takes place without the big guys.

The offensive linemen protect in pass coverage and seek out and destroy on designed run plays.

“We take a lot of pride in doing our job,” Sleasman said. “But there’s not a lot of jumping around about it.”
There is no need for them to boast about themselves. All the touchdowns and all the winning speak volumes.

Hockinson is averaging 46 points per game in its 13-game win streak, the best among all Class 2A teams in the state. If the Hawks make it 14 in a row, they will be state champions. Hockinson will battle Tumwater at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome in the 2A state championship game.

“Just to be playing with my friends, my family, is just incredible. We’ve got one goal, and we just focus,” Sleasman said.

That goal?

“A ring on our finger.”

At Hockinson, the linemen get plenty of love from coaches and teammates.

“It doesn’t matter how good Canon is. If he doesn’t have that O-line in front of him, he wouldn’t have thrown that many touchdowns,” Hockinson coach Rick Steele said. “He owes it all to that front six.”

Yes, only five start. But the Hawks have had six standout performances on the line this season. The projected starting lineup for the championship game will be: Sleasman at left tackle, Nathan Balderas at left guard, Zac Ristau at center, Kordell Johnson at right guard, and Takumi Veley at right tackle.

Sleasman is a four-year varsity player who had a few starts as a freshman.

“When you have a kid like him … he can solidify your offensive line,” Steele said. “He knows all the calls. He’s our rock in there.”

Veley and Balderas are both sophomores. Veley, Steele said, is the example of sacrificing individual glory for team gain. He was a running back last year.

“We talked him into playing offensive line,” Steele said.

Balderas is a “very physical player,” using his 6-4, 280-pound frame to dominate.

Johnson, the coach said, always seemed to be in his brother’s shadow. Kedrick Johnson starred for Hockinson’s quarterfinal teams in 2014 and 2015. The 2017 season became Kordell’s year to shine.

“He’s not Kedrick Johnson’s little brother anymore,” Steele said. “He has very pleasantly surprised us with his play.”

Offensive line’s performance gave Hockinson the time and space to become the best Class 2A offense in the state.
Hockinson is averaging 46 points per game, behind a record-breaking quarterback and an incredible group of receivers. But the Hawks know they would not have time to score without the offensive linemen. From left to right, Takumi Veley, Garrett Kondel, Kordell Johnson, Zac Ristau, Nathan Balderas, and Ryan Sleasmen have paved the way for all those points during the team’s current 13-game win streak. Photo by Mike Schultz

Ristau, who missed the first 10 games due to an injury, has been “fantastic” in his return, Steele said, giving the line some depth.

An unsung hero of the season just might be Garrett Kondel, who started the first 11 games at right guard while Johnson was the center as the Hawks waited for Ristau to return.

“He stepped up big-time for us this year,” Steele said.

The three seniors on the the line — Sleasman, Johnson, and Ristau — all realize that no matter the result Saturday, this is the last time they will have together on the field as Hockinson football players. They all have interesting storylines going into this finale.

Ristau suffered a gruesome finger injury on the second day of practice in August. At first, he expected to miss four weeks. Then doctors told him 11 weeks. In order for him to return to the field, the Hawks had to keep winning.

“It’s special to be back,” Ristau said. “It’s something you only get once, your senior season. It’s a dream come true to make it this far.”

He said he had butterflies in his stomach prior to his return.

“After the first play, it just felt good.”

Johnson acknowledged that he did not play up to his potential earlier in his career. Then it all clicked for him heading into the season.

“I realized it was my last year. I had to put everything into it,” Johnson said.

Together, the Hockinson offensive line has put its heart and soul into this season, helping the Hawks score 598 points in 13 games — that is 46 a pop.

“You know your work is paying off when that happens,” Ristau said.

The linemen are not concerned about not having their names in the scoring summaries. The wide receivers, the running backs, the quarterback, they are the one who get in the end zone with the ball.

“But without us, they’re going to get in a little trouble,” Ristau said.

Johnson said he had a saying when he was the center.

“It starts with me and ends with you,” he said, noting each scoring play started with his hands on the ball and ended with a touchdown to one of the “skill” players.

Sleasman also understands that not every touchdown is because of the linemen.

“We do our job. They do theirs,” Sleasman said. “But sometimes you look up and see Sawyer with a one-handed catch in the end zone and you just say, ‘Well, someone did something right.’”

The Hawks need to do a lot more of those “right” things Saturday if they are to win a state championship against a very talented opponent. The Hawks want to win for themselves, but also for the community.

Johnson noted the police escort back into town after last week’s semifinal victory.

“All of Hockinson was there,” he said.

“You feel the whole community,” Ristau said. “You’re there to represent them.”

And for the seniors, this is it. They have maximized their final season, getting to Week 14.

“I don’t know if I’ve fully come to terms with this being my last week of football,” Sleasman said. “Next year, I won’t be playing football with my dudes, my family. I’m never going to forget this. Memories for a lifetime.”

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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