Wilson, Balers know how to take a hit

Slade Wilson has taken some big hits this season only to keep on producing. Photo by Ed Wong.

Late in last Friday’s blowout loss to Salinas, Slade Wilson attempted to reach the end zone for a 2-point conversion. Before Wilson got to the pylon, however, a couple of Salinas defenders smacked him out of bounds. The hit drew a reaction from even the home crowd, as they recognized that Wilson absorbed some major physical contact.

The thing is, that was the third or fourth time during the game in which Wilson took a big hit, only to get right back up. The 5-foot-9, 164-pound junior quarterback takes a beating but keeps on going, a major reason why the Haybalers are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division entering Friday’s crucial contest with Aptos (4-1, 3-0).

“I can’t really feel the hits because I have so much adrenaline going,” said Wilson, who rushed for a team-high 73 yards and added a 13-yard touchdown pass to Adam Mendoza in the loss to Salinas. “In Hollister, we’re coached up tough—that’s how it is. My body is built to take hits.”

Wilson knows he’s just one hit away—as is every player who takes the field—from getting injured. He doesn’t play with reckless abandon, but he doesn’t shy away from contact either. Wilson’s toughness and maturity—he didn’t start playing organized football until his freshman year—is evidence that Wilson is a student of the game who possesses a tremendous work ethic.

“I spent a lot of time in the weight room the last couple of years knowing one day I’d have to be ready for this,” said Wilson, who was the backup quarterback in 2016. “I go into every practice knowing it’s another opportunity to improve. You have to make every single day a good day.”

Wilson has completed 23 of 50 passes for 420 yards, with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 222 yards on 46 carries. Although the Balers had a game to forget against Salinas—they trailed 28-0 at halftime and were never really competitive in a 42-13 defeat—Wilson said the team must improve.

“Starting with me, I have to get better,” he said. “I threw a pick (interception) and let the team down a bit. The game should’ve been a lot closer, because we’re both good teams. We just made too many mistakes and Salinas took advantage of that.”

Wilson has developed impeccable footwork under the tutelage of Balers coach Bryan Smith, whose strength lies in teaching footwork fundamentals. Once the season is over, Wilson plans on attending some passing camps to improve his overall skill set. While most of his passes are accurate, Wilson burns to be the best.

“That’s something I want to do, is to get my game up passing the ball,” he said.

In the spring, Wilson plays another rugged sport in lacrosse. Can you tell he likes physical contact? Going forward, Wilson has a goal to improve his leadership skills.

“I like being a leader, and that’s why I love football,” he said. “For myself and everyone on the team, we need to step up and become better leaders.”

Wilson already leads by example, as evidenced by the brutal takes he hits in every game. Time after time, Wilson shakes it off, as if nothing happened. He merely goes back to the huddle, relays the play to his offense and tries to make a play to help his team win.

That’s exactly what Wilson will try to do against a tough Aptos squad on Friday. The Balers are coming off a lopsided defeat to Salinas, but the good news is they usually bounce back well the following week. It’s already happened once this season, as San Benito, after dropping a 35-0 decision to Wilcox on Sept. 15, reeled off three straight wins entering last week’s contest against the Cowboys. Faced with another opportunity to rebound, the Balers are in a must-win game if they want to have a realistic chance of winning a MBL Gabilan Division championship.

Salinas is 4-0 in league and Aptos 3-0, and it would be a huge upset if one of those teams finished with two losses in league play. That means the Balers will have to run the table and get help in their title quest. In last week’s action, sophomore fullback Eric Green continued to impress with 69 yards on eight carries. Green was able to get out in the open field, break some tackles and bust off runs of 12, 15 and 28 yards. Steven Navarro finished with 61 yards on seven carries, including a 31-yard run in the fourth quarter.

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