If you weren’t paying attention, you might not have realized that New England has been home to one of the most dominant teams in college football over the last several seasons.

Holy Cross, that small school that sits atop the hill in Worcester, Mass., has won five consecutive Patriot League titles, compiling a 24-2 record in the conference over that stretch. It’s by far the most consistent run of success the school has ever seen, which has led to new opportunities for a pair of the Crusaders’ very best.

Jalen Coker and C.J. Hanson each received the ever-elusive invite to the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, becoming the third and fourth Holy Cross players to ever attend — joining Peter Muldoon (1985) and Gordie Lockbaum (1988). It’s certainly been beneficial for Coker and Hanson to have been part of the program’s success, but they’re not just a product of it. They’re primary reasons for it.

“They’re both very genetically gifted,” Holy Cross director of sports performance Chris Grautski told NESN.com. “C.J. is all of 6-foot-5 and runs like a gazelle. Jalen has some freaky attributes and he’s just so smooth in and out of his work. … They’re very different from a lot of the players we have and play against in our level of Division I.”

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Hanson entered the pre-draft process as the lesser known of the two Holy Cross prospects, but his work thus far will change that. He was a standout at the Shrine Bowl and already has met with 30 of 32 NFL teams — including the New England Patriots. He thrives when working in space and moves about as well as any interior offensive lineman you’ll see. And he knows it.

“I think my biggest thing is my athleticism. I move very quickly off the line of scrimmage … pulling is one of the best parts of my game,” Hanson told NESN. “I should be the fastest interior offensive lineman at the combine.”

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Hanson and Coker, coming from the FCS level, have a lot more to prove than many of their peers. That means accepting every offer for exposure they can, and a pretty grueling upcoming couple of months.

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“It’s football at the end of the day,” Hanson said. “Yes, it’s demanding in the mental aspect, but once you get on the field, everything just kind of goes out the window. You go back to your training, and it just takes over from there. It was definitely demanding in every aspect of the way, but I mean, we dominated it.”

Coker, in particular, was dominant at the collegiate level, accounting for nearly half of Holy Cross’ passing offense in 2023. He scored 31 touchdowns in 39 career games, setting a school record. Grautski touched on what separated the wideout from others at the FCS level, but at the end of the day, Coker puts it pretty simply.

“I think I’m a good football player,” Coker told NESN. ” … I feel like having trust with your quarterback is everything, especially when he’s the guy that’s gonna throw you the ball every play. … I think I’m competitive and savvy. I’m hungry.”

Hanson and Coker have been able to lean on each other every step of the way thus far, rooming together at the Shrine Bowl and sharing the moment when they received their invitations to the combine. They’re even preparing for the world’s most stressful job interview together, working out at X3 Performance and Physical Therapy in Fort Myers, Fla., which is a different kind of spring training.

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“It’s the first time in their lives that they’ve honestly put 100% focus into their body and their training,” Grautski said. “No matter how focused we can make them on a college campus, there’s so many distractions. The best thing for them is to go away and sleep well, train hard and push themselves with other like-minded, like-talented individuals.”

The combine is just the latest step, as it bleeds into March, when Holy Cross will host its Pro Day and offer the duo another opportunity to showcase their skills in front of NFL evaluators. It’s also their last chance to step foot on campus before their lives change forever, a final goodbye to the place where they were molded.

“It’s just it’s a different place. I couldn’t have had a better team, and I have 100 different brothers now,” Hanson said. “We worked with each other day in and day out for the last five years. … I can’t speak about other programs, but our program? I picked literally the greatest place to play college football.”

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Featured image via Rick Cinclair/Telegram & Gazette via USA TODAY Sports Images