By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
To call 2022 the most anticipated season in the history of Hollister Football is more fact than hyperbole.
Mike Johnson’s first year as head coach not only saw the Tigers win a school-record six games, but he returns 15 starters from that team that felt like its season ended prematurely.
To say they feel like there’s unfinished business is an understatement.
“Last year’s success is just a springboard for Hollister Football,” said Johnson. “We really feel that we put the program on the map so to speak, but that we also didn’t accomplish what we wanted to and could have. We dealt with a ton of injuries last year and lost numerous kids to season-ending injuries. We kept fighting and our kids never quit.”
Hollister will return one of the best backfields in the Ozarks with senior quarterback Luke Calovich and senior athlete Blake Russell both returning.
Both were All-Conference and All-District performers with Calovich passing for 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns. Russell rushed for 1,601 yards and 16 touchdowns on just 159 carries. He added another 600 receiving yards.
“Luke can be dynamic as a passer,” said Johnson. “I was most proud of how well Luke took care of the ball last year (two interceptions on the season). He has to match that this year. He is a very capable runner as well and we will look to use that part of his game this year as well.”
“Blake is a special player. He is very much a dual threat that causes matchup problems all over the field. He is just as dynamic as a receiver/returner as he is as a running back. Blake works hard and loves the game.”
A major key to their success last year was a big, physical offensive line. With Michael Collins (6-2, 250) and Boston Huck (6-3, 280) back in the mix – both All-Big 8 picks – that shouldn’t change.
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They’ll likely be joined by seniors Elijah Small (6-2, 220), Cam Krysl (6-0, 230) and Gabe Bean (6-2, 235). Juniors Jayke Lebsock (6-1, 350) and Jonah Charlton (5-11, 215) are also in the mix.
Senior Zack Nuss (6-0, 230) and junior Noah Richardson (6-4, 220) will return to their tight end and linebacker spots.
“Zack is a very strong run blocker and has great hands,” said Johnson. “He has a great feel in the passing game and is a playmaker on defense.”
“Noah is an outstanding kid and has great leadership potential. He plays the game the right way.”
Senior Ayden Kimmell is another two-way starter, making an impact at receiver and in the secondary. He finished last season with six interceptions. Juniors Ty Bertrand and Talen Rankin will join him at receiver and in the secondary.
Senior Ethan Wright and junior Colton Hale will see action on both sides of the ball. Wright started in the secondary last year and Hale rushed for more than 300 yards as a sophomore.
Senior Devin Girard and sophomore Zech Honey will also see meaningful snaps.
Senior Silas Woodburry will return to his home at defensive end and is expected to have a big season now that he’s healthy. Classmate Ryand Franks (6-4, 225) is also going to see an increased role on both sides of the ball.
As Hollister looks to take the next step in building the program, the Tigers need to win games in late October. That is no easy task in the Big 8 and sharing a district that is largely Big 8 and SCA dominated.
Johnson is excited about what’s ahead of his group and what they can do together in 2022.
“For us to compete for a conference championship first and foremost we need to stay healthy,” said Johnson. “After that we are going to need to continue to create some leadership on this team. We have built that culture where our kids expect to win. Now we need to put in the work to do so. Each week in the Big Eight is a battle. We know that. We have to have the mindset that we are going to outwork everyone in the conference if we want to win championships at Hollister.”
Hollister will jamboree at Springfield Catholic with Clever and Ava. They’ll host Cassville on Aug. 26 to open the 2022 regular season.