Friends, teammates and partners in crime.
After successful high school football careers, Mount Airy seniors Mason Hill and Sao Lennon will continue their academic and athletic journeys at Methodist University.
“They don’t come better than those two guys,” said Granite Bear coach J.K. Adkins.
Hill and Lennon joined forces prior to the 2020-21 football season and instantly became great friends. The duo served primarily as offensive lineman – with Lennon at guard and Hill at tackle – but played some on the defensive line as needed.
“Those two guys played beside each other, so a lot of what we did enabled them to double team defensive linemen up to backers,” Adkins said. “They were by far the best double-team combo when we needed yards; we knew where we could go. It didn’t matter what you put in front of them, they would take care of business. They were extremely consistent every Friday and continued to get better as the year went.”
Hill and Lennon had very different football backgrounds before becoming a dynamic duo.
Hill was involved in the sport for most of his life.
“I feel great,” Mason said after signing his NCAA National Letter of Intent. “This is just a huge blessing to me. This has always been the dream, and I’ve been playing since I was six. It’s unreal.”
Nearly a decade into his athletic career, Hill said college football truly became a reality for him in 2020.
“After sophomore season and going into junior summer, I was working to find that path you could say,” Hill said. “That’s when I realized I was good enough to play at the next level, and coaches started reaching out.”
Lennon, on the other hand, didn’t even start playing football until his junior season.
“It’s really nice because I get to keep playing the sport and keep doing what I like to do, even though I’ve only played for two years,” Lennon said. “Being able to keep on doing it, and going with one of my best friends to a college to play, it’s really nice. It feels good.”
“Early on, we could tell that there was tremendous potential there for when he figured it all out,” Adkins said of Lennon. “Man, he really became a dominant player. High intelligence, high work ethic. Those two kids are very similar in their demeanor, and how they practice and carry themselves. I’m just so proud they get a chance to continue their education and get a lot of it paid for through sports.”
Lennon said his junior season wasn’t the best, and that he realistically didn’t even consider playing college football when he first started. What helped him tremendously was the layout of high school sports in 2021. Football was held in the spring, and Lennon went straight from that into wrestling season.
Sao was a state qualifier in wrestling, meaning his season lasted until the final weekend in June. From there, he jumped directly into football workouts and into his senior season in August.
“It just kept me fit and ahead of the game,” Lennon said. “It took me a little bit to get the technique, but once I got the technique it was like second nature. It was easy to go through the plays.”
Lennon had the added benefit of training beside an experienced player like Hill, which helped him overcome the learning curve.
“Our friendship really didn’t start until junior year, and despite what people may think we are really good friends,” Lennon said. “He comes over to my house all the time, we spend a bunch of time together outside of school and plan on being roommates in college. So, I’m betting this friendship will last for a long time, and being able to keep it going on and off the field is something nice.”
“It was great playing with him,” Hill said of Lennon. “I taught him a lot, too. Me and him, we were working together a lot junior year, which was easy because he’s a really good athlete. I feel like we’ll be really good in college too because we get four more years.”
Adkins said Hill is a classic example of a student-athlete that developed himself into a great football player. Despite not having a natural size advantage over defenders, Hill perfected his technique and became a huge part of Mount Airy’s success on the gridiron.
“At times this year, Mason dominated in ways I have not seen an offensive lineman dominate games in a long time,” Adkins said. “We had two opponents this year play us completely different just because of his ability to block the second and third level. Their alignment was different because of him, which is a great testament to what he can do.
“If he was 6’4” he would be rolling into a Division-I school no question. Methodist is getting a great player, and an even better person. He’s everything you want in a kid. I’m really proud of him and what he’s been able to do the last four years.”
Adkins added that Sao and Mason’s intelligence was a big part of their success on the football field. Mount Airy switched from a passing to a rushing offense for the 2021-22 season, and a strong offensive line was pivotal.
The duo helped the Bears rush for more than 3,600 yards and 56 touchdowns this past season, and the team finished 13-1 overall. Hill and Lennon both said they didn’t mind if more attention was given to the running backs and quarterback because the team recognized how valuable the line was.
“We’re always getting shoutouts from our running backs when they get offensive player of the game or whatever, because they know that without us it wouldn’t be as easy to go and run as much as they do,” Lennon said. “Getting recognition from the people and the players who actually know what the linemen mean to the team, that feels really good.”
Hill echoed Lennon’s statement, saying: “Everybody just gave us credit. We knew we were working, making holes for all the guys. They shouted us out, for sure.”
Lennon and Hill each had people to thank on their signing day.
“I’d like to thank my parents, my coaches, my friends who helped me motivate myself, and I want to give a shoutout to my friend Mason; He’s my partner in crime,” Lennon said.
“I want to thank my parents, friends, coaches and especially God for giving me this opportunity,” Hill said.
Adkins said it was going to be difficult replacing Hill and Lennon next season, but he does have a potential solution to the problem.
“They have two younger brothers, so maybe we’ll recreate this combo in a year or two,” Adkins said. “Oddly enough, they play their positions too.”