Veteran group looks to lead HHS football back to familiar heights in 2015
On the surface, last season seemed like a pretty typical one for the Holton High School football team.
The Wildcats rolled to a 9-2 overall record, claiming league and district titles in the process, and they were only derailed in the playoffs by a team (Columbus) that eventually represented the east side of the bracket in the Class 4A-DII state championship game.
While it seemed par for the course for Holton, which has three state titles in the past 12 seasons, one more championship game appearance and has faced the eventual state champion in almost half (five) of those seasons, something was off about that 2014 finale.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever lost a football game like that,” HHS coach Brooks Barta said.
Columbus put forth a valiant effort, but the Wildcats saw a potential game-ending drive fall short due to their own errors before the Titans pulled off the comeback. It should’ve been Holton playing in the state championship game, according to Barta.
Now, the 2015 HHS squad returns a year older, a year wiser and with a little bit of a chip on its collective shoulder, putting the team a little bit ahead of where it was last fall in the coach’s eyes.
“We have a little bit more experience coming back this year. We’re a little bit worried with maybe a couple injuries on our offensive line before we get the season started, but we have a lot of depth there,” Barta said.
Seniors Brandt Rose and Brandon Lennherr are the two dealing with injuries to start the season, but fellow seniors Jacob Coufal, Torin Kaboudan and Justin Wells bring back a wealth of experience, while Barta said Brian Nelson, Josh Bjelland and juniors like Tel Wittmer, Dalton Gakle and Aaron Bain should provide competition and depth on the interior line.
At the edge, both Kaden Brandt and Austin Frakes return after starting a year ago, while the backfield will also have a surplus of experienced, varsity players, including Justin Rieschick, Justin Pool, Mason Barta and Will Wright. Barta also noted the return of senior Arturo Reveles can’t be overlooked.
Most of those players also bring back experience on the defensive side of the ball, which is something that could be crucial for the Wildcats with a front-loaded schedule that features games against Silver Lake, Maize South, Sabetha and Nemaha Central in the first five weeks.
“Guys who have been experienced play a little more aggressively and make decisions quicker. We’re still not going to be perfect, but ahead of where we were last year,” Barta said.
While some players saw action in limited roles last season, others like Rieschick (444 rushing yards, 56 tackles, three interceptions) and Barta (310 rushing yards, 85 tackles) made contributions all over the field and will look to lead the charge for the Wildcats this fall. According to their coach, though, they’re going to need some help.
“I think a goal for us early is going to be to build a much broader base of leadership and try to get more buy-in and more concern for the daily process,” coach Brooks Barta said.
Considering the limited experience, Barta said it will also be key for some of the younger players to grow up quick and help provide some depth, which puts even more of a premium on the daily training the Wildcats do this fall. With all the rehashing at the start of a season, the coach said that could especially be critical early on this fall for the team.
“It’s a grind for the first few weeks of the season. There’s so much to cover in terms of what we do offensively and defensively and on special teams,” Barta said. “It never seems like there’s enough time to do what we want to do.”
“It’s a grind in getting the repetition on the fundamentals that we use that are necessary for us to be successful,” Barta said.
Regarding progression of the players, Barta views it in a similar frame as leadership. There are several players who have put in the work and can clearly be counted on, but a broader base still has to earn the coach’s trust.
The Wildcats may have to earn a lot of what they achieve on the field this fall, as the team doesn’t have the security blanket of size to fall back on this season. While Holton will be a smaller bunch, Barta noted that does little to change the team’s goals of getting off the ball, putting a hat on a hat and finishing blocks.
While Holton may have some overall team speed to counterbalance its small overall physical stature, Barta noted the team still needs to be focused on building some consistency on the offensive end and tackling on the defensive end.
A fair share of challenges await the Wildcats this season, but Barta believes that will just help the team’s progress in the long run and fans could once again see a very familiar product on the field.
“I think we’re going to look a lot like we usually do, a little faster, smaller, quicker football team,” Barta said, “and hopefully we can make big plays on offense and eliminate them on defense.”
Holton will open up the season at home against Silver Lake at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Mason Barta, sr., 6’ 2”, 210 lbs., FB/LB, All-League in 2014
Justin Rieschick, sr., 5’ 9”, 165 lbs., QB/DB, All-League in 2014
Austin Frakes, sr., 6’ 2”, 200 lbs., TE/LB, All-League in 2014
Justin Pool, sr., 5’ 9”, 155 lbs., RB/DB
Brandt Rose, sr., 5’ 11”, 255 lbs., OL/DL
Jacob Coufal, sr., 6’3”, 220 lbs., OL/DL
Kaden Brandt, sr., 6’ 3”, 185 lbs., TE/LB
Brandon Lennherr, jr., 6’ 2”, 230 lbs., OL/DL
Will Wright, sr., 5’ 10”, 165 lbs., RB/DB
Torin Kaboudan, sr., 5’ 9”, 220 lbs., OL/DL
Justin Wells, sr., 6’ 3”, 205 lbs., OL/DL
Arturo Reveles, sr., K