Early last season, then-sophomore Nathaniel Holcomb and Puyallup Vikings football team felt the crunch of the season come in one single hit.
Coming in as a starter for the Vikings, Holcomb was beginning to hold his own, compiling 409 yards and seven touchdowns through the first three weeks of the season. The five interceptions he’d thrown demonstrated his inexperience.
But Holcomb still represented some hope and stability for Puyallup at the game’s most critical position.
“He had some rough spots and made mistakes, but overall he provides us with everything we needed in a quarterback,” Puyallup coach Gary Jeffers said. “He can throw and use his legs to run, and his skillset works well with what we want to do here.”
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Holcomb still felt he didn’t show enough. For a quarterback to run the offense, they must be in control.
“I felt I wasn’t a really strong leader last year,” Holcomb said. “I’m trying to be more vocal on the team, taking a more active role.”
Then week four’s home game against league rival Emerald Ridge High happened. About midway through the first half, Holcomb dropped back and was brought down by a hard tackle from the ER pass rush.
It was the final play for Holcomb on the season as the young quarterback was ruled out with a concussion. That one play defined the Vikings’ 4-6 record last year.
“The feeling I had was almost guilty because I wasn’t able to be out there to help out the team,” Holcomb admitted.
With no backup quarterback — and being forced to move to the Wildcat formation — it left the Vikings sinking fast.
Not able to play, it was hard for Holcomb to watch.
“I tried to do everything I can on the sidelines, trying to be a leader on the team,” Holcomb said. “But it was hard not being able to help.”
What defines Holcomb’s recovery the most is resiliency. Coming back from any head injury brings caution for players and coaches alike. But for Holcomb, it’s an afterthought at the moment.
It’s now full focus on Puyallup’s first game when the Vikings travel to Thomas Jefferson High on Sept. 4.
“I see a bunch of hungry guys,” Holcomb said. “Everybody is really starting to come together, everybody is starting to play hard for each other … we’re just going to take it game by game.”
Prove it to me
After last year’s lackluster finishes to games, Jeffers doesn’t want any player to feel comfortable coming into this year’s August camp. He wants his players to earn their spots.
Even Holcomb is being pushed by fellow junior Tristen Gaf for playing time for Puyallup’s coveted spot.
“It’s a lot more competing this year, even for me because Tristen is a really good quarterback,” Holcomb said.
Puyallup has four quarterbacks on the roster, leaving Jeffers with a feeling he’s never experienced while at the helm for the Vikings.
“I feel like a glutton,” Jeffers laughed. “I’ve never had this legitimate depth at the quarterback position … even with Trevor Lyons and Rhys (Gervais), it was more of a timeshare because they did things differently for us. And Brendan (Illies) never had protection.”
“I’m happy we won’t have to rely on the Wildcat this year.”
And that makes a receiving group — the Vikings’ deepest position group — even happier as the number in looks should increase having three capable quarterbacks behind center.
“We’re really deeper at all our positions,” senior receiver Tyler Torgison pointed out. “We know that Tristen and Colby (Burton) … we’ll make plays for them because we know (they) will get us the ball.”
“I feel like being super deep at wide receiver, you can’t go wrong because there’s (fresh) bodies out there each drive,” junior JD Lee said.
The Vikings are also completely healthy for the first time in a long time. That leaves Jeffers relieved.
“We’re healthy right now — that makes me a happy coach,” Jeffers said.