A.L. Brown hero: Kenny Halstenberg
KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown offensive line coach Todd Hagler has a well-deserved reputation as a tough grader.
“It’s like this,” said Jeremy Ryan, who has been on the coaching staff since the Bruce Hardin days, “if you knock your guy on his butt, but then he gets up and makes the tackle, Hag is going to grade you a minus.”
Senior Kenny Halstenberg graded out at 93 percent in last Friday’s rout of Robinson. That’s unheard of. Well, almost.
“I can’t remember grading many above 80s over the years,” Hagler said. “But (center) Caleb Spry was in the 90s the week before, and now Kenny this week. Maybe I’m getting soft.”
Not likely. At first glance, like many of his teammates, Halstenberg appears to be playing out of position. At almost 6-foot-2 and a lean 200 pounds, he looks like an ideal backup quarterback. Instead, he’s the left tackle — and a good one.
“He’s developed into one of our best offensive players,” Hagler said. “He hasn’t come out of a game unless we’ve got a big lead — and we haven’t had many big leads.”
Since losing to Concord opening night, the Wonders (6-1) have won six in a row, including dogfights with Weddington, Berry and Vance. They are not supposed to win tonight. The MECKA opponent at Memorial Stadium is Cornelius Hough. Hough, also 6-1, is ranked sixth in 4A and was higher before it lost to No. 1 Mallard Creek a week ago.
Halstenberg, as is the case every Friday, will be asked to block significantly larger people.
“Robinson’s defensive line was one of the strengths of their team, but they were nothing like the Hough guys we’ll be playing against,” Halstenberg said. “These guys are Division I prospects, but I’m looking forward to it more than worrying about it. I’ll play the best I can, and that’s all I can do. If we all play our best, if we all go out there and execute, then we can win the ballgame.”
He looks like he’s already been involved in a boxing match, with some serious bruises around his nose.
“A Robinson guy hit me in the face mask and caused that, but it’s nothing to complain about,” he said. “It’s a challenge every week. It’s not easy being 200 and blocking those 275s, but you can do it if you stay low and play smart.”
Playing smart isn’t difficult for Halstenberg.
“He’s one of the smartest kids in his class,” Hagler said. “He’s extra-smart.”
Wonder fans can mostly thank Phillip Halstenberg, Kenny’s older brother, for having Kenny on the team. Phillip was a standout offensive lineman for the Wonders two years ago and now is a pre-med student at UNC Wilmington.
“When I got to Brown I wanted to play soccer, but Phillip told me I was playing football,” Kenny Halstenberg said. “I’m glad he did.”
It hasn’t been a smooth road for the younger Halstenberg.
He was a jayvee backup as a 170-pound freshman, a jayvee starter as a sophomore and a varsity reserve, who didn’t play much, as a junior. He also had to deal with some weight loss after suffering a concussion with the lacrosse team.
“He’s a program player,” Hagler said. “He’s just kept working, and he’s good example for all the kids here who aren’t getting to play a lot. Hang in there. Don’t get discouraged. Keep working, and you’ll get your chance.”
Halstenberg has played well enough this season that head coach Mike Newsome doesn’t have to worry about left tackle.
“He’s just a regular ol’ size guy, but he’s worked his butt off,” Newsome said. “He knows who to block, and while he’s smaller than most guys he lines up against, he’s usually still going to be stronger than most because of the weight room.”
Hagler, who directs the strength and conditioning program, says much of Halstenberg’s strength is in a powerful lower body.
“His bench-press numbers aren’t fantastic, but he squats a lot and he cleans a lot.”
That strength will be needed tonight when the Wonders face their toughest opponent so far in their return to 4A after 25 years as a 3A power.
“I’m sure we’ll stick with what’s been working,” Halstenberg said. “We’re power right and power left, and we’ll try to block those guys.”