Late in 2012, Arizona Western College head coach Tom Minnick received a message from twin brothers from Central Oregon who were desperate to prove themselves on the football field.
“They called me up and said, ‘Coach, we’re not on scholarship and we need a chance,’ ” Minnick says about the first time he talked with Jacob and Cody Hollister, former standouts at Bend’s Mountain View High School who spent the 2012 football season as walk-on redshirt freshmen at the University of Nevada in Reno.
After reviewing film from the Hollisters’ high school days — they both earned all-state honors and helped lead the Cougars to the 2011 Class 5A state championship — Minnick was sold.
“They’re both athletic and really good football players, so I took a shot on them coming down here,” Minnick says of bringing the Hollisters to his junior college program in Yuma, Ariz., which routinely sends players to Division I schools. “And I said, ‘Here’s the deal: As long as you take care of your grades and everything like that, you guys will end up bigger than Nevada.’ ”
That Coach Minnick knows his stuff.
In late December, during the NCAA’s midyear junior college transfer signing period, the Hollisters both accepted full athletic scholarships to play Division I football. Cody, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver who caught 68 passes for 922 yards and five touchdowns this past season for Arizona Western, is headed to the heralded Southeastern Conference to play for the University of Arkansas. And Jacob, a 6-4, 225-pound converted quarterback — the position at which he was chosen Oregon’s 5A high school player of the year in 2011 — is set to join the University of Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference as a tight end. In his first year receiving passes instead of throwing them, Jacob recorded 10 catches for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Both 20-year-olds, who expect to enroll in their new schools this month and participate in spring practices, have three years of athletic eligibility left.
“Nothing those two guys do ever surprises me,” says Steve Turner, the twins’ head coach at Mountain View — he is now at Cascade High in Turner — about his ex-players’ path to Division I scholarships. “They’re competitive kids, smart kids who always have a goal … and they never took no for an answer.”
The road to Yuma
With the Hollisters’ track record in perseverance, nothing appears out of reach for the former high school multisport stars. Despite rewriting the Mountain View football record books — between them, the two own virtually every Cougar career passing and receiving mark — the brothers had no D-I scholarship offers coming out of high school. (The University of Idaho had offers on the table, according to the twins’ father, Evan Hollister, but they were pulled following a coaching change.)
“It was definitely frustrating, but more than that just stressful,” Jacob says about having to mull over invitations to walk on at bigger schools and partial scholarships to smaller schools. “We thought that once we won a state championship, ‘This is it. We’ve shown everyone they were wrong.’ ”
That was not the case, and late in the recruiting process the brothers agreed to enroll at Nevada as invited walk-ons for the 2012 season.
“We went in with an open mind and weren’t sure what to expect,” Cody says. “We didn’t know anything about Nevada other than we liked the coaches.”
Their time in Reno turned out to be brief. Cody seemed to catch the Wolf Pack coaches’ eyes, but Jacob was buried on the depth chart behind four other quarterbacks. The Hollisters were still weighing their options early in the offseason when longtime Nevada coach Chris Ault announced his retirement late in December.
“That sealed the deal (to leave),” Cody said. “As walk-ons, we knew we had to build relationships with the coaches and show them how hard we’d work. When we found out for sure the coaches (who had recruited them) were leaving, we kind of said, ‘We need to go get re-recruited.’ ”
Which led to their phone call to Minnick.
“It was pretty simple,” Cody says. “We looked up the best junior colleges in the country. Arizona Western was the first one we emailed. Tom Minnick got right back to us, we sent him film, and real quick he said, ‘Right on. Here’s your offer.’ ”
The Hollisters’ time in Yuma, about 11 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, was all about earning a scholarship to a major-college football program. Transferring at the semester, the brothers went through spring ball at Arizona Western and were able to enter preseason camp fully up to speed in the Matadors’ offense.
“While we were there, it was the most focused we’ve ever been,” Jacob says. “All there is to do there is go work out, go throw, go catch, go run routes. That’s all you do, 24/7.”
And go to school. The brothers loaded up on classes — they each took 24 credits one semester — in order to earn their associate degrees and be able to transfer to a four-year university during the middle of the school year.
“For the most part, everyone knows — at least what we tried to harp on — is that it’s a business trip,” Jacob says. “You’re there temporarily.”
The early move to Arizona was especially beneficial for Jacob, who switched positions at the end of spring workouts, giving him all summer to make the transformation from quarterback to tight end.
“Cody was a guy you’d give a scholarship to,” Minnick says about first watching the Hollisters in spring practice. “But Jacob was a kid that you’re kind of (undecided about as a quarterback). He ran some stuff for us at quarterback all through spring ball and he could run the ball pretty well.”
Minnick liked Jacob’s athleticism, and by the end of spring workouts the coach had him running some tight end and H-back.
“He caught a couple balls and made some great runs,” Minnick recalls. “I said, ‘This is his position. I just have to get him to buy into it.’ He bought into it.”
After spending this past summer in Bend catching footballs and running up Pilot Butte, the brothers headed back to Arizona Western fully focused and in the best shape of their lives. They made the most of their one season in Yuma, helping the Matadors go 7-2 in their first nine games before a late-season National Junior College Athletic Association audit forced Arizona Western to forfeit five of its victories because transfer waivers had not been received for two players. (The team officially finished the season 2-10, though the Matadors went 7-5 on the field.) Cody’s 68 receptions led the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, and Jacob, a tight end for all of three months, became a starter on a unit that averaged an impressive 405.9 yards per game.
“They were extremely confident after going to Nevada,” Evan Hollister says. “They’d been running the scout team against Nevada’s (starting defense) and went head-to-head with a corner and a safety that got drafted. (Wolf Pack safety Duke Williams was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and Nevada cornerback Khalid Wooten was a sixth-round selection by the Tennessee Titans.)
“Coming out of Nevada,” Evan continues, “they knew they could play and wanted to show it.”
Cody established himself as the Matadors’ go-to receiver early in the season, recording at least five catches in each of Arizona Western’s first four games. His breakout game of the fall came in the fourth game of the year when he had eight catches for 170 yards in the Matadors’ 38-29 victory over Phoenix College.
“To play in the SEC, you’ve got to be a tough kid and be able to run and be athletic,” Minnick says about the conference that has produced college football’s past seven national championship teams. “(Cody has) got all those tools to help him out. He’s going to be a tough kid to get off the field because he does things EXCELLENT. He runs great routes and knows how to get open. He’s just an invaluable player being a smart kid.”
Playing tight end in Arizona Western’s run-based offense, Jacob did not put up the numbers his brother did. But in 10 games he showcased enough potential that several Division I scholarship offers came in.
“He was good about (the position change) and I think he has grown into the position,” Minnick says. “He’s a little bit raw right now and he still needs to get better. But he has great hands, he’s willing to work, he takes coaching and he is a good athlete.”
“He’s a football player,” adds Turner, the former Mountain View coach. “Whether he’s playing quarterback or tight end, he wants to play football.”
Same dream, different schools
Teammates since they first picked up a football or a basketball or a baseball, the Hollister brothers say the decision to pursue football at different schools was not taken lightly.
“At first it was really hard,” Jacob says about the realization that he and Cody would likely spend their final three years of college playing for different programs some 900 miles apart. “It’s something Cody and I had to sit down and talk about.”
The Hollister brothers’ entire family discussed their decision to separate.
“There’s been a lot of talks,” says Jennifer Connolly, Cody and Jacob’s mother. “It’ll be interesting. They’ve never been apart for more than four days. … Cody had to pray a lot, think a lot. It’s a big deal. But they are good-hearted kids and they both want what’s best for the other brother.”
Adding to the stress was the recent coaching change at Wyoming. Both Hollisters had offers from the Cowboys, but those scholarships were thrown in limbo when head coach Dave Christensen was fired on Dec. 1. Arkansas extended an offer to Cody after Christensen’s ouster, but Jacob was not sure if he still had a spot with the Cowboys. Wyoming hired North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl on Dec. 8, though, and the new head coach let both Hollisters know their scholarship offers were still on the table.
“Once we got re-offered (from Wyoming), that was a soothing time,” Cody says. “We knew we both had good D-I offers, something we both could be proud of.”
“It was tough to get them separated,” adds Minnick, their coach at Arizona Western. “But I think they both realize that it is only going to be for a couple years.
“Cody was going to the SEC,” he continues. “You can’t turn down that offer to go somewhere else.”
Cody and Jacob are in Bend for the winter break before heading to Fayetteville, Ark., and Laramie, Wyo., the second week of January. As midyear transfers who will participate in spring ball, both brothers expect to compete for playing time next season. Jacob and the Cowboys open with a home game against Montana on Aug. 30 before playing Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 6. Cody and the Razorbacks kick off the 2014 season at Auburn, which may be the defending national champion when it hosts Arkansas on Aug. 30.
“We had to put our pride away,” Cody says about the Bend-to-Reno-to-Yuma route he and Jacob took to earn their D-I rides. “But it worked out for the best.”
“They’ve earned it,” Minnick adds. “They’re great kids that work hard. They are going to have great careers at their four-year schools.
“I’m proud of them,” Minnick continues, “and Bend, Oregon, should be proud of them, because they are both great athletes and both great kids who will do anything you ask them to do.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0305; firstname.lastname@example.org .