Lemont's Ethan Pocic and Tim McAuliffe are, in the evaluation of recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, "the two best linemen on any one team in Illinois this year."
Pocic is committed to LSU, McAuliffe to Bowling Green. In football terms, that's like comparing Waikiki to Oak Street beach.
It doesn't bother McAuliffe at all. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound guard chose Bowling Green over Toledo, Western Michigan, Western Kentucky and Ball State and didn't blink.
"Bowling Green got a steal," Lemming said. "He can play center or guard. He is very athletic, strong, active and technically sound."
McAuliffe looks forward to showing a lot of major Division I recruiters that they made a mistake when evaluating him. "You get skipped over in life and you have to make the best with the hand you are dealt," he said philosophically.
"I talked to a couple of Big Ten coaches but they didn't show too much interest. They didn't like my size. It's no big deal. I wish I had a few inches more but I'm fine with what I've got."
According to Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen, that's plenty. "He is one of the toughest kids we have ever had. Division I coaches look at people's size and make projections. In my opinion, they made a mistake. He will have a great career at Bowling Green," he said.
Michaelsen said McAuliffe reminds him of former Lemont star David Molk, who was a Remington Award winner as an All-America center at Michigan. "He plays to the whistle. He is physical. He doesn't back down from any challenge," the coach said.
"I tried to sell the big schools that he is no smaller than Molk was. He could play at a higher level. He has the edge that Molk had, a mean streak."
McAuliffe and his once-beaten teammates will face their biggest challenge of the season when they host unbeaten and offense-minded Crete-Monee (12-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in a Class 6A semifinal in Lemont.
"We're happy to be here," Michaelsen said. "I still think we can play better. We have played some good games but we haven't played our best game yet. There still are times where we bog down offensively and times where we make mistakes on defense and special teams."
Michaelsen said his senior laden team has bounced back from its lone setback, a 21-20 overtime decision to Thornton Fractional South in Week 6.
In their last six games, the Indians have outscored their opponents by a margin of 220-40. The offense is averaging 35 points per game while the defense has allowed only 99 points.
"The kids have come together as a team," Michaelsen said. "There is more closeness, more working together, more improving. We have good senior leaders and football is real important to them. They are willing to put in the work. They want to win a state title."
The senior leaders are Pocic, McAuliffe, linebacker Connor O'Brien, defensive back Jake Lemming, running back Chris Giatras and quarterback Zack Brosseau.
They remember how it felt to lose to Peoria Richwoods in double overtime in the state semifinals last year, to see their 12-game winning streak snapped. "It was devastating. We should have won. We let them off the hook.
We had many chances to win but we didn't capitalize on them," McAuliffe said.
Losing isn't something that McAuliffe and his teammates are familiar with. Lemont has lost only one game in each of the last three years while winning 34. In the last six years, the Indians are 68-9 with second-place finishes in the state playoff in 2007 and 2008.
"We definitely can win the state title this year. We have come a long way since the season began, since we began lifting weights. We had to work hard and get faster and refuse to lose. We dont want to fall short again."
McAuliffe said the loss to T.F. South was a reality check, the first regular-season loss the seniors had experienced in their varsity careers.
"It hit me hard," McAuliffe said. "So the coaches made some changes. We went to a hurry-up offense that gave us a new pace to the game. And the defense matured a lot after the loss. Our mentality now is that we are more ready to play.
"A big part of our success over the years has been to score on the first drive. We haven't done it much this year. Now we are clicking because we are ready to play. We're playing with a chip on our shoulder. We're taking practice more seriously. We want a state title more than anything. We fell short last year. We are determined not to let it happen again."
Unlike many offensive linemen, McAuliffe doesn't count pancake blocks. To him, that isn't a true measure of his skill level.
"Our goal is to keep our offense on the field and keep the opponent's offense off the field, to run the clock down, to put long drives together," he said. "The most fun I have is to pull around and block and put someone down and have the running back run behind me. I enjoy blocking, putting people on the ground and punishing them."
That is all part of his mean streak. "Mean streak means playing to the whistle, never giving up on a play, hitting people hard on every play, not backing down from anyone, taking on any challenge and not taking any crap from anyone," he said.