Hollister High senior Brayden Watkins is expected to be a key factor in the offensive backfield for the Haybalers' football team in the upcoming 2023 season. (Chris Mora/special to the Hollister Free Lance)

Hollister High football coach Bryan Smith was forced to make some minor changes on the offense toward the end of the 2022 campaign.

So far, it’s been working for the eight-year skipper who chose to carry over the same concept into the upcoming season.  

However, with a new offense and new season also comes a three day process of tryouts that was extra on top of what Smith and his coaching staff are trying to accomplish schematically. 

Not only do both the offense and defense take a step back from the fundamentals, Smith is also trying to identify who would make the 2023 roster.

“We’ve worked through some bumps and bruises, body wise. There’s some adversity on the field in terms of now the pads are on,” he said. “I think our kids are doing good with it. We’ve put a lot in over the course of summer with the offense, we put a lot in over the course of the first six days of practice.” 

Going into fall camp the Balers had 87 student-athletes try out. The coaching staff was expected to scale back this week and they’ll continue to place the pieces that need to be put in place. 

Their season kicks off against Oak Grove of San Jose at Andy Hardin Stadium in Hollister on Aug. 25 at 7:30pm.   

The new offense will be led primarily by seniors Brayden Watkins and Robert Holsten III, who will use their experience from last season’s Central Coast Section playoff run. 

Watkins finished with a team-best 792 yards rushing on 134 carries and seven touchdowns, while Holsten had nine receptions for 121 yards receiving and a pair of TDs in 2022, according to the Monterey Bay Preps website.

“Always feels good to get back out here in pads, get through the growing pains,” Watkins said. “We’re trying to figure things out before the next scrimmage so we can produce and hopefully have a winning season.”

Hollister lost several seniors due to graduation including all-leaguers in Chance Brown, Michael Curto, Asher Kearns, Isaiah Molina, Gabriel Sanchez and Alex Valencia, who led the Balers with 136 total tackles.  

Holsten said the group is still young and like most teams with new players they’re trying to get to know each other. They hit the weight room together in January and continued to grind at 6am practices during the summer, helping them build a closer bond. 

“For how long we’ve known each other, we’ve been growing together,” Holsten said. “So it’s gonna be good.”

Smith said they shied away from the wide zone as their bread and butter play, which they spent a lot of time on for the past two seasons. 

“We didn’t see the return on that,” he said. 

Plus, senior starting quarterback Abel Galindo Jr. went down in the opening round of the CCS Division III quarterfinals against Burlingame High after he suffered a broken fibula and tibia.  

At that point, Smith decided to move away from wide zone and put together an offense they felt worked for that group specifically, and the players they had available. 

Smith said it wasn’t something they were accustomed to in terms of having a system oriented offense with an answer for whatever opposing defenses threw at them.  

“We researched and I was looking at an offense that I really liked that encompassed some of the things that we have always done in the past whether it was Wing T, whether it was the flex bone, whether it was our multiple formation wishbone offense, and a little bit of the spread,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, but it is challenging.”

Galindo is nearly back to full strength and will make his return to the field. He completed 81-of-128 pass attempts for 1,028 yards passing to go along with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2022 for the Balers.

Smith doesn’t see any hitches in Galindo’s gait and there’s nothing the veteran coach believes would hinder his starting quarterback from being able to perform at his best.

“To sit here and say he can make every throw, that’s a little far-fetched,” Smith said. “But he can make a lot of throws and being in a little more system based offense, we can dictate where those throws go for the most part.”

The offensive line will be led by senior Arden Bracamonte, who helped the offense produce 2,167 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns in 2022. 

“Our goal as a line is to play together and just be physical,” he said. “Play together as a team.”

Hollister senior Isias Morin will hold the fort in the defensive backfield as the starting safety.  

The Balers—winners of seven CCS titles—were on the brink of bringing home another piece of hardware but lost to Menlo School of Atherton in the D-III finals, finishing with a 7-6 overall record in 2022.

“We know what it feels like to lose now. We don’t need that again,” Morin said. “My defense is coming.” 

Hollister will square off against familiar foes in Alvarez along with tri-champion Aptos, Palma and Salinas for a shot at the PCAL Gabilan Division title, which would be their first league championship since 2011.

The newcomers in the division include reigning Mission Division champion Soquel and runner-up Monterey high schools.

“It’s going to take doing the little things right to win this division. Everybody in this division is working to win that division title and everybody in the division has the players to do it,” Watkins said. “It’s all about who’s the toughest and who’s the strongest, and who can finish that fourth quarter.”

Hollister High football

Head coach: Bryan Smith (8th season)

League: PCAL Gabilan Division 

Last season’s record: 7-6, 2-3 (4th in Gabilan Division)

Postseason: CCS Division III runner-up

2023 schedule

Aug. 25: Oak Grove, 7:30pm

Aug. 31: Wilcox, 7:30pm

Sept. 8 at Valley Christian, 7pm 

Sept. 16: at Santa Cruz, 6pm

Sept. 22: Everett Alvarez*, 7:30pm

Sept. 29: Palma*, 7:30pm

Oct. 6: vs. Monterey* at Monterey Peninsula College, 7:30pm

Oct. 13: at Soquel*, 7:30pm

Oct. 27: Aptos*, 7:30pm 

Nov. 3: at Salinas*, 7pm

*PCAL Gabilan Division game

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