Friday Night Hero: A.L. Brown's Kaleel Hollis
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — The only difference between A.L. Brown safety Kaleel Hollis and Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu is 12 years, 2 inches, 40 pounds and a serious amount of hair.
Hollis has pledged his NFL allegiance to the Dallas Cowboys, but he respects Polamalu’s game. He watches him on Sundays, tries to play like him on Fridays.
Hollis is 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, good size for an accountant or a trumbone player in the band, but nothing special for a safety. Still, he produced a Polamalu moment opening night.
With Shelby facing third and long, the Wonders were in their “dime” package — six DBs. The surprise call was for a safety blitz from Hollis through ‘A’ gap — between the center and a guard.
“You try to time the snap count and hit that gap full speed,” Hollis said. “It worked. The line parted, and I got a clean shot at the QB. It was a pretty big hit. I didn’t get the sack, but it did take him a while to get up.”
Shelby’s Daylan Fuller is such a good player that he somehow got rid of the ball as he was clobbered, but that physical play by Hollis was a drive-ender.
“That was textbook DB play,” said assistant coach James Lott, who started three bowl games for Clemson and now guides the Wonders’ secondary. “What Kaleel lacks in size, he makes up for with his smarts and his athleticism. He has great awareness on the field. He makes big plays and stops the other team from making big plays. He’s the best short safety I’ve coached.”
When the Wonders chose captains for this season, swift, talented, UNC-bound back Damien Washington was an easy pick. The other captains came from the defensive side — lineman Gerald Holt, who looks as tough and mature as the coaches, and the seasoned Hollis.
“When you’re chosen as captain by your peers, it means something,” head coach Mike Newsome said. “That says a lot about Hollis. Sometimes picking captains is nothing more than a popularity contest or a best-player contest, but those guys don’t necessarily make the best leaders. But this team couldn’t have done a better job. Hollis is as good off the field as he is on it.”
Asked about a defense that’s allowed one first-half TD in three games, Hollis mentions the other 10 starters and a few backups before himself. That also tells you something.
“Our defense starts with Holt and those hogs upfront,” he said. “We’ve got good, run-stopping linebackers and John (Bass) is a great cover guy. As far as the DBs, we don’t have any 6-footers. We’re just 5-9 and 5-10 chunky guys who work out with Coach Hag (strength coach Todd Hagler) a lot and take a lot of knowledge from Coach Lott.”
Hollis said the defining moment in this season came when everything was unraveling in the second half against Shelby. A 30-0 lead had shriveled to 30-24.
“We couldn’t move the ball and we couldn’t stop them and fingers were being pointed,” Hollis said. “But it was the first game and we were still trying to become a team. Then we became one. The offense got a first down. The defense got a chance to rest. Then we went out and took care of business.”
That huge win propelled the Wonders to a 3-0 start, and the ‘D’ looks sharp.
“We have a defense now where if someone messes up, someone else picks him up,” Hollis said. “That’s the definition of a great defense.”
By Mike London firstname.lastname@example.org The Catawba notebook … SALISBURY — Catawba lost 30-5 to St. Augustine’s in Saturday’s opener, with... read more