After standout running back Cole Mueller finished his career at Holt High last year and took his talents to the collegiate level, there was a general sense that the Indians would be down a bit this fall.
Holt, which finished 4-6 in Mueller’s senior season, has been anything but down this year.
Heading into week five of the 2019 season, the team already has just as many wins as they did all last season thanks to a 4-0 start. It also happens to be the program’s best start since 2003 and has occurred under the leadership of fifth-year head coach Ethan Place.
“I think that there was a sense around us that people thought we might be down after Cole Mueller left, but I felt like we had the potential to start this way,” Place said. “We have a lot of new faces, but we do have a strong senior class, the staff has been together now for a few years and we had our best buy-in [to the program] this offseason that we’ve had since I’ve been here…I knew that would translate [into this season].”
Among the new faces that have helped drive the Indians offense so far have been big-play sophomore receivers Jackson Smith and Collin Bunner. Bunner is averaging 25 yards per catch and Smith is averaging 17 yards per catch in the Indians passing attack.
“Jackson Smith, we move him around, but he stays in the slot for us and he’s the lightning rod for us,” Place said. “Collin is a little bit bigger of a receiver, but they are both big-play threats and they can both run the ball and they work great together.”
Sophomore Payton Hoker runs the offense from the quarterback spot and has been calm and stabilizing behind the line of scrimmage for Holt. Hoker has thrown for 745 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception through the first four games of the 2019 campaign.
“Payton has done a great job coming in a sophomore, being able to be calm under pressure and kind of just facilitating the offense and distributing the ball around,” Place said.
Sophomore running backs Zahki Johnson and Kyle Wuebbling have been driving the run game, averaging 4.8 yards a carry, and six yards a carry respectively.
Holt’s defense has been relentless under second-year defensive coordinator Darryl Daleen, giving up just 14.5 points per game.
“They have been phenomenal,” Place said. “It’s the second year under Darryl Daleen our defensive coordinator and he’s a phenomenal coach. It’s his second year here with the system and the kids are really starting to understand it and not have to think very much.”
Seniors Matthew Bennett, Cole Londoff and Colton Hawks have led the defense as the team’s top three tacklers. The Holt stop crew has been bruising on opposing offenses for each series of each game.
“We’ve got a lot of physical kids on that side of the ball,” Place said. “Colton Hawks is an all-American wrestler going to Mizzou, and we have a number of big, physical linebackers that play aggressive defense. They run to the ball and they run to get hands-on the ball and cause turnovers.”
Place said he believes consistency in the offense, defense, and kicking game have been the biggest keys to the team’s super start.
The trick now is to keep them dialed into the process that got them to this point with an eye toward improving in the district playoffs and advancing there.
Holt has not played more than three postseason games since the 2012 season, but now, the Indians are aiming to change that this fall.
“That’s always the goal to be able to make a run and get hot,” Place said. “None of these kids have ever been in this position before being undefeated right now being 4-0. I think we’re just trying to be focused on one week at a time and one day at a time. We’ve still got a tough schedule coming up these last five weeks, but our kids are gaining confidence and we’ve got a lot to improve on.”