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’re no better than those two guys,” Granite Bear coach JK Adkins said.

Hill and Lennon joined forces ahead of the 2020-21 football season and instantly became great friends. The duo primarily served as offensive linemen – with Lennon at guard and Hill at tackle – but played some on the defensive line when needed.

“These two guys played side by side, so a lot of what we did was to double them from defensive linemen on the team to backers,” Adkins said. “They were by far the best double-team combo when we needed yards; we knew where we could go. No matter what you put in front of them, they would take care of business. They were extremely consistent every Friday and continued to improve as the year progressed.

Hill and Lennon had very different football backgrounds before becoming a dynamic duo.

Hill has been involved in sports for most of his life.

“I feel great,” Mason said after signing his NCAA National Letter of Intent. “It’s just a huge blessing for me. It’s 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 has truly become a reality for him in 2020.

“After the second season and the start of the junior summer, I was working on finding that path you could say,” Hill said. “That’s when I realized I was good enough to play at the next level, and the coaches started reaching out.”

Lennon, on the other hand, didn’t even start playing football until his junior season.

“It’s really good because I can keep playing this sport and keep doing what I love, even though I only played for two years,” Lennon said. “To be able to keep doing it and go play with one of my best friends in college is really nice. It feels good.”

“Early on, we could tell there was huge potential there by the time he had it all figured out,” Adkins said of Lennon. “Man, he has really become a dominant player. Great intelligence, great work ethic. These two children are very similar in their behavior, and in the way they train and behave. I am so proud that they have the chance to continue their studies and that they are largely paid through sport.

Lennon said his junior season wasn’t his best and he didn’t even consider playing college football when he started. What helped him tremendously was the provision of high school sports in 2021. Football was held in the spring, and Lennon jumped straight from that into wrestling season.

Sao was a wrestling state qualifier, meaning his season lasted until the last weekend of June. From there, he jumped straight into football practices and into his senior season in August.

“It just kept me in shape and ahead of the game,” Lennon said. “It took me a bit of time to pick up the technique, but once I got the technique it was like second nature. It was easy to go through the games.

Lennon had the added benefit of training alongside an experienced player like Hill, which helped him overcome the learning curve.

“Our friendship didn’t really start until first grade, and despite what people might think, we’re really good friends,” Lennon said. “He comes to my house all the time, we spend a lot of time together outside of school and plan to be roommates at university. So, I bet this friendship will last a long time, and being able to maintain it on and off the pitch is something good.

“It was great to play with him,” Hill said of Lennon. “I also taught him a lot. Me and him, we worked a lot together the junior year, which was easy because he is a very good athlete. I feel like we’ll be really good in college too because we’re four years older.

Adkins said Hill is a classic example of a student-athlete who turned into a great football player. Although he didn’t have a natural height advantage over defenders, Hill honed his technique and became a big part of Mount Airy’s success on the gridiron.

“At times this year, Mason dominated in a way that I haven’t seen an offensive lineman dominate games in a long time,” Adkins said. “We had two opponents this year who played us completely differently just because of his ability to block the second and third tiers. Their roster was different because of him, which is a great testament to what he can do.

“If he was 6’4” he would be riding in a Division I school without a doubt. The Methodist becomes a great player and an even better person. He is everything you want in a child. I’m really proud of him and what he’s been able to do over the past four years.

Adkins added that Sao and Mason’s intelligence was a big part of their success on the football field. Mount Airy went from assist to rushing offense for the 2021-22 season, and a strong offensive line was essential.

The duo helped the Bears rush for over 3,600 yards and 56 touchdowns last season, and the team finished 13-1 overall. Both Hill and Lennon said they didn’t mind if more attention was given to running backs and the quarterback, as the team recognized the value of the line.

“We always get shoutouts from our running backs when they become Offensive Player of the Game or whatever because they know that without us it wouldn’t be as easy to go running as much as them,” Lennon said. “Getting recognition from people and players who really know what linemen mean to the team feels really good.”

Hill echoed Lennon’s statement, saying, “Everyone just gave us credit. We knew we were working, making holes for all the guys. They yelled at us, that’s for sure.

Lennon and Hill each had people to thank on their signing day.

“I want to thank my parents, my coaches, my friends who helped motivate me, and I want to thank my friend Mason; He’s my partner in crime,” Lennon said.

“I want to thank my parents, my friends, my coaches and especially God for giving me this opportunity,” Hill said.

Adkins said it would be difficult to replace Hill and Lennon next season, but he has a potential solution to the problem.

“They have two younger brothers, so maybe we’ll recreate that combo in a year or two,” Adkins said. “Surprisingly, they also play their positions.”