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November 26, 2022

Balers have same goals, new home

Before the 2019 season kicks off, a significant event will have already made a positive impact for the Hollister football program. With the completion of the new stadium, the Haybalers have a facility they can be proud of and one that rivals any in the Central Coast Section. The coaches and players are fired up—perhaps even more than usual—as they set to christen the new facility on Friday in the season-opener against Santa Teresa High.

“We’ll try to give the fans what they want to see—a win,” said Juan De Leon, a senior running back who is one of the team’s top returnees.

Year in and year out, the Hollister football team has a work ethic second to none. The Haybalers’ end result from a won-loss standpoint usually comes down to the talent on their roster. To that end, coach Bryan Smith enters the season with optimism.

“The talent I believe is improved from last year,” he said. The Balers finished 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division. “We’ve got some pretty special guys I’d like to think.”

Tops on that list is senior running back Juan De Leon, who rushed for over 900 yards last season and came on strong after a couple of players in front of him got injured. De Leon had a productive off-season, getting stronger on all of his lifts and packing muscle on his 5-foot-11 frame. Senior fullback Eric Green joins De Leon in the backfield, and they have the potential to form one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.

At 5-10 and 225 pounds, Green is quite the load. Green, who is coming off off-season ankle surgery, has never played a full season of games due to injuries, Smith said. As a result, the priority will be to have Green healthy at the end of the season because he’s such an impact player.

“We need to keep him away from the injury bug,” Smith said. “Obviously, we’re going to use him, but it’s nice that we do have a plethora of backs we’re going to use as well.”

That includes juniors Primo Reyes and Chris Soto, two players who have come on strong in summer and fall practice. Another junior, Alejandro Cosio, could see carries as the backup fullback. Whereas Green comes ready to smash any defender that’s in his way, Cosio utilizes quickness and provides the team with another option.

Junior Michael McShane returns at quarterback after starting some games last season. McShane comported himself well as a first-year varsity signal-caller, and he’s grown both physically and mentally over the off-season.

“Michael McShane has grown up a lot,” Smith said. “He got stronger in the weight room, is an above average leader and throwing the ball really well right now.”

Hollister will continue to be a ground and pound team and will use play action to expose the defense. Smith said the Balers’ running backs will be utilized more in the passing game than in years past. Of course, line play is paramount, and the guys up front hold plenty of promise. Center Isaac Gonzalez, a 6-1, 260-pounder who also plays defensive tackle, and Alex Jeffery, who packed on quite a bit of muscle in the off-season, are athletic and capable of winning the battles against the guy in front of them.

Tackles Anthony Sandoval and Bryan Camarillo possess good size and can get to the second and third levels.

“So in that regard we’d like to think we’re a little more talented on the offensive line than last year,” Smith said. “I’d like to think we’re bigger than the last three years, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to better talent because we don’t have the experience. But they have the ability to be better than last year’s group.”

Several players have done an outstanding job in training and practice since the 2018 season ended, including senior Adam Rostran, who has moved from running back to outside linebacker this season. Possessing explosiveness and physicality, Rostran has been the leader of the defense so far, Smith said. Junior Johnny Vigilante is another explosive talent who will play at cornerback.

“He’s had a good fall in terms of QBs not really throwing his way because he’s been doing a great job of covering guys,” Smith said. “Johnny Vigilante is an extremely talented guy who played JV basketball last year. He’s a two-step, hop and go above and slam dunk the basketball. He’s very explosive.”

Ricky Navarro and Joe Dickerson return to anchor the defensive line, and both have looked solid in the lead-up to the season opener. Smith said the team has a couple of question marks at inside linebacker and free safety, though backers Marcus Aranda and Blake Sicley and safeties Anthony Mercurio and Rigo Morin have the ability to turn those positions into a source of strength. Smith praised the turnaround of De Leon, who has become a 3.0 GPA student after struggling in academics in previous years.

“He is part of our student congress on campus now and has done some great things personally and for our team as well,” Smith said.

De Leon was motivated by a desire to be a part of the football team, knowing the facility would be in place and that “I could be a part of something special.” A hard, tough runner, De Leon won’t blow anyone away with sheer talent; rather, he consistently grinds away for yardage and has a mindset to work harder than his opponents, a trait many of his teammates share.


8/30 vs. Santa Teresa, 7:30 p.m.

9/6 vs. Wilcox at Levi’s Stadium

9/13 at Los Gatos, 7:30 p.m.

9/27 vs. Aptos, 7:30 p.m.

10/4 vs. Christopher, 7:30 p.m.

10/11 at Gilroy, 7:30 p.m.

10/18 vs. Alvarez, 7:30 p.m.

10/26 at Carmel, 2 p.m.

11/1 vs. Salinas, 7:30 p.m.

11/8 vs. Palma at Rabobank, 7:30 p.m.

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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