FREDERICK, Md. — If Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams take down the New England Patriots Sunday in Super Bowl LIII, providing a narratively taut bookend to the Pats’ dynasty, they will do so in no small part thanks to the quiet contributions of Rob Havenstein.
You likely don’t know that name, unless you’ve spent any time wandering the halls, or the gym, or the weight room, or the locker room, or the coaches offices, or basically allowed your eyes to be open anywhere inside Linganore High School’s property line. There are trophies and photos, but there are also news clips, just about anywhere you look, celebrating Havenstein’s success.
“We’re getting kind of sick of reading about his ass.”
That’s longtime Linganore High School football coach Rick Conner and, yes, he’s joking. It’s the kind of ribbing that only comes from the deepest place of love and respect. After all, who do you think clipped and posted those articles?
Conner’s first year coaching high school football was Havenstein’s head coach with the Rams, Sean McVay’s, first on the planet. In those 33 years guiding young men on the gridiron, despite a Maryland High School Football Hall of Fame career that includes seven trips to the state title game and three championships in 17 years at Linganore, Havenstein is the only one of Conner’s players to make the NFL.
Conner knew early on he was working with a different kind of athlete and person. Earlier, even, then Havenstein’s first day on campus – Conner was his seventh grade basketball coach.
“I knew he was going to be great,” said Conner, who credits Havenstein’s wide array of sports backgrounds before high school. “He was playing soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and in the end, that might have been good for him. Because if you watch him, he’s so light on his feet, it’s incredible.”
Still, he was blessed with innate size. Havenstein entered his freshman year already a fully filled-out 6-foot-3 (“He picked the right parents,” joked Conner). Now he’s a full 6-foot-8, a giant even in a sport full of them.
Conner’s only worry was the transition from being a star on the basketball court to a position that doesn’t afford one much glamour.
“Playing offensive tackle, you’re not going to have a lot of success, in terms of touchdowns, or whatever,” said Conner. “You don’t catch the ball. You don’t run the ball. So you worry that not having that type of point success like he did in basketball might be a deterrent. But he hung in there.”
These days, Havenstein’s press clippings are getting a bit more noteworthy. While offensive linemen are often afterthoughts for the casual fan, the starting right tackle found himself on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated.
Sure, it’s not exactly a candid cover spread. The photo is of Greg Zuerlein’s overtime field goal that got the Rams into the title game, shot from behind. While Zuerlein is front and center, his body and NFC-winning 57-yard game-winner splitting the “I” and “S” in RISE, Havenstein’s just in front of the kicker and to his left, big No. 79, walling off the Saints defense to allow it all to happen.
Pro Football Focus rated Havenstein as the 10th-best offensive lineman in the entire league this season, one spot above teammate and fellow offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. Behind the Patriots’ Shaq Mason, he’s the second-highest rated lineman in the Super Bowl this year. He’s an anchor of what Football Outsiders rates as the best offensive line in the game and what Pro Football Talk calls perhaps the best run-blocking offensive line ever.
The success doesn’t surprise Conner, who saw Havenstein’s focus on improvement in practice every day.
“He came out every day and got better,” said Conner. “To see him play in college at Wisconsin on TV, he was so much better then, too. And to see him now with the Rams, he’s even better than he was in college.”
And though Conner has watched with pride as Havenstein has reached the pinnacle of the sport, it was a moment that had nothing to do with football when he realized he was dealing with a different level of personality and drive.
Back when he was being recruited, with several handfuls of Division I offers already secured, a collection of coaches visited the campus at Linganore to recruit him. Penn State and West Virginia were there, as was Stanford’s David Shaw. The Rutgers coach tried to make a splash by flying in by helicopter. All were hanging out in the gym as some of the team was playing volleyball, when a deflected ball seemed destined to head out of play.
“Well, the big guy takes off, backpedals, turns and runs, slides like a baseball player, like he’s sliding into third base,” Conner described the action, like it had just happened. “Bumps the ball back up in the air, we hit it back over the net. And the coaches there were all cheering him on and going nuts.”
The two keep tabs on each other’s success. Conner will get texts from Havenstein after big Linganore wins. The coach and his family, meanwhile, traveled to Nashville last season when the Rams played the Titans to watch him play.
“The Conners are all big fans. We’ve all got our 79 jerseys. It’s almost embarrassing,” he said.
While the coach isn’t exactly sure where he’ll be watching the game Sunday, it will be with his family, in their matching 79 jerseys, rooting for the pride of Linganore High.
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