Senior Greg Johnsen, left, and junior Dan Egan have been a consistent presence on both sides of the line for Elk Grove.
Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
Working together on both sides of the line has strengthened the bond between Elk Grove senior Greg Johnsen and junior Dan Egan.
"We're a lot closer than we've ever been," said Johnsen, who plays left guard on offense alongside Egan at tackle. "We both give grief to the right side and do a lot of joking around."
But most of the grief Johnsen and Egan have caused up front is for opponents of the Mid-Suburban East champions. When they aren't giving running back Stefan Skoneczka and quarterbacks Dejan Basara and Adam O'Malley time and room to operate they are making life difficult on the defensive side.
They hope to do some more bonding at 1 p.m. today when they host rival Conant in a Class 7A first-round playoff game.
"It's great knowing no matter what he's supposed to do, he trusts me and I trust him," Egan said. "If there is a double-team we're going to help each other out, do our assignments and it's going to work if we work together."
There were concerns of how everything would work since the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Johnsen was the only returning starter up front from the Grenadiers' second straight playoff team. Egan did get a chance to start a game when he received a midseason promotion last year along with linebacker Mike Maize.
But Johnsen and Egan have established a physical presence up front with Brian Mack, Martin Diaz and Kevin O'Malley offensively and John Assimakopoulos and Tom Jansen defensively.
"At the beginning we didn't know if we would be good or not and a lot of people doubted us," said the 6-2, 230-pound Egan.
"Obviously at the beginning of the season it was a big deal but as the season went along everyone settled in," Johnsen said. "We became a cohesive unit. It's like playing with a bunch of returning starters."
Johnsen credits the offseason weightlifting program of defensive coordinator Rob Pomazak and the championship-level experience of assistants such as Mike Mullaney, Dan Meyo, Tom Hessling and Rick Magsamen for much of their success.
And Egan said having a leader on the field such as Johnsen is a big difference-maker.
"He's the most hardworking kid along with Dejan that I know," Egan said. "He's so determined and knows everything we 're supposed to do.
"We respect him because he works so hard for it. He's a really good athlete and you know he's worked hard for it, too."
Especially since Johnsen has no offseason since he's trying to throw around other wrestlers in the winter and the shot put and discus in the spring. Along with that is a 3.85 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and a 30 on the ACT.
"He's a good leader for the line," Egan said.
Egan has also stayed busy with wrestling, track and rugby. But a broken foot at the end of the wrestling season had him wondering if this season might be in jeopardy until he was finally cleared to play in July.
"My foot isn't fully healed but I deal with it," Egan said. "In the summer I was getting anxious because I was just standing there.
"The coaches told me I had to work harder because I was out of shape. By the beginning of the season I was at the same level I was before."
It also doesn't hurt to be pushed by someone who isn't satisfied with what has been a memorable season to this point.
"I don't feel like we've played our most physical game and best game yet," Johnsen said.
The Grenadiers would love to see it today when Egan and Johnsen get to renew some old acquaintances. Johnsen played youth football with Conant linemen Kevin Modelski and Andrew Engel and tight end Nick Blaha. Egan also played with Engel, Joe Faso, Tim Manczko and Kramer Brandt and played rugby with standout linebacker John Maevski.
"People have gotten more excited but the coaches have told us to keep levelheaded," Egan said. "We want to focus on the game and have tunnel vision."
And when Johnsen and Egan are at the top of their game it's a lot like staring down a couple of freight trains roaring through that tunnel.