By Josh Hall
When Jacob Hamon took over as the head football coach at Hollister in 2014, the Tigers won one game. They won two the next year, and are coming off a 5-5 season in 2016. It was the best year for a program that has only been around since 2010.
Prior to the season last year, Hollister made it a goal to get four wins. The Tigers achieved that and more, but expectations are a little bit different entering the 2017 campaign.
“That five wins is not good enough anymore,” Hamon said during the third day of official practice on Aug. 2. “We still have to go week-by-week, and we want to attack each week, but we definitely want to do better than 5-5.”
Jackson Bekemeier will play a key role in determining how successful Hollister will be this season. The senior is back to anchor the offense at quarterback while also playing a key role at free safety on defense.
Hamon said Bekemeier has improved his skillset and his ability to lead vocally. Always a leader by example, speaking up was something Hamon challenged Bekemeier on earlier in the summer. The coach has been happy with what he’s seen.
“Any coach in Southwest Missouri would want him to be in charge of their offense and run it,” Hamon said. “We’ve seen a lot of ownership out of him – getting kids attention and getting kids going. I’ve always talked to him about Tom Brady and how he gets the attention of his guys and gets them going. I think it was out of his comfort zone. I think he’s jumped out of his comfort zone now with those guys.”
Bekemeier will patrol the offense again after going 127 of 233 through the air for 1,484 yards with 15 touchdowns. Bekemeier, who battled a knee injury throughout the season, also led Hollister’s running game. As a junior he ran for 749 yards on 99 carries and scored nine touchdowns.
Like the rest of the team, Bekemeier is expecting big from the Tigers this season.
“We had a couple games last year that we should have won,” he said. “We had a couple that slipped away from us. What we’re going to have to do to take it to the next step and win those games.”
Hollister received some unfortunate news in June when the Tigers learned they would be without Derek Morris, the team’s leading receiver last year as a junior. Morris suffered a torn ACL during basketball camp and will be sidelined for the entire football season after hauling in 30 passes for 518 yards to go along with 10 touchdown receptions.
“That’s going to be a big spot to fill,” Bekemeier said after he heard the news in June. “(Morris) was an important part for us. It’s just next guy in line. They’re going to have to step up.”
Hamon said Morris had successful surgery to repair the injured knee, and the Hollister athletic program hopes he will be able to return for basketball season.
“We went through a little bit of adversity there,” Hamon said. “You know you’ve got to wake up the next morning and put your pants on and come to work, and next man up. That’s maybe harsh. That’s just the reality of what we’re in right now with the kids.”
So far, the receiving corps have responded to the challenge. Hamon said some of the route combinations have been adjusted to fit the strengths and weaknesses of the personnel that will take over for Morris.
“Somebody kind of takes a step back, you have to step up around him and I’m really proud of our receiver corps,” Hamon said. “Our skill kids, you could tell those kids that we need to step up are doing that for us. Kids that weren’t going to get that big of an opportunity like they thought they were, they jump into the spotlight and have to step up for us.”
Hollister doesn’t go into the season with a group of unknowns. Junior Landon Farquhar, along with seniors Logan Armitage, Landon Farquhar, Josh Neville and Marvin Walters all saw significant time at receiver last season.
Farquhar hauled in 31 catches for 254 yards with two touchdowns, and also ran for 207 yards on 21 carries and three scores as a sophomore. Armitage was another solid playmaker with 29 catches for 349 yards and three touchdown receptions. Walters added six catches for 60 yards and Neville had 17 receptions for 166 yards.
“We’ve got the talent,” Farqhar said. “We’ve just got to be mentally prepared and ready.”
Hollister graduated a talented offensive line in 2016, but Hamon is excited about the group that takes over after playing in reserve roles a year ago.
Jenner Steele, Darius Mata-Varona, Dylan Barber and Tristan Davis will make up the o-line for the Tigers this season. Steele, also a basketball and baseball player, is knew to the football scene, but Hamon said he is the biggest one of the group.
“He really wanted to play tight end, but he told us, ‘hey coach I’ll help you out and I’ll play o-line, put my hand on the ground and help you out,’” Hamon said. “That’s just a kudos to our kids and their mentality here. They’re a fun group to work with.”