Maybe he had his primary sport, soccer, on his mind, because football before this season had been just a lark to Hollins, who was relegated to the junior varsity team even as a junior.
This season, he bounced from defensive back to wide receiver and finally to running back in the fifth game, against T.C. Williams. Since then, Hollins has scored 14 touchdowns, eight from 20 yards or more, including a 96-yard run against T.C. Williams in the second of the Bruins’ seven consecutive wins headed into the their home game Friday against Oakton in the first round of the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 6 playoffs.
Everyone in the region knew that West Potomac transfer quarterback Caleb Henderson would be a boon to the Bruins’ offense. But Hollins? An unknown senior having this kind of a season must be a transfer. No. Hurt last year? No.
He’s just a guy who had not yet dedicated himself to his “other” sport. In the hallways and beyond this fall, he’s still getting, “Aaron, I didn’t know you played football” comments, that’s how obscure he was in the program.
“It actually shocked me,” Hollins said with the sly smile. “I thought last year when they pushed me down back to JV that I was a waste, a practice dummy or something. I didn’t envision all [this] could happen to me.”
Playing on the junior varsity as a junior did not faze him much because football was just a sport that he played for fun. Whether it was on Thursday nights with the JV or Friday nights with the varsity, he did not much care.
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Hollins, who scored a goal in the Bruins’ state quarterfinal soccer win over Cosby last year, still considers himself “a soccer guy.” Even his e-mail address contains a soccer reference.
In football before this season, his potential had always tantalized but not always delivered.
“Last year in a couple of JV games he had returns that were just unbelievable, but then the next week he’d have to miss a couple practices because of [club] soccer,” said Lake Braddock offensive coordinator Chris Weiler, whose son, Matt, is an assistant soccer coach at the school who touted Hollins’s football potential.
“It’s so odd to have the year he’s having now when he wasn’t on the varsity last year and all of a sudden he’s put in position where he’s not only making plays he’s really one of the most exciting players in the region right now,” Weiler added. “Who does that? How does that happen?”
At Henderson’s urging, after Hollins had returned a kickoff 96 yards in the season opener against Centreville, the Lake Braddock coaches moved Hollins to offense. First they tried him at wide receiver, at one of the lesser-used spots in the Bruins’ sophisticated five-wide scheme. There was a lot to learn with minimal payoff. Hollins figured he would languish there and wanted to move back to defense. Or soccer.
“At that point,” he said, “I didn’t want to play any more.”
The coaches decided to move him to tailback to get him the ball more. Weiler broached the subject with Hollins at practice one day leading up to the T.C. Williams game.
“He looked at me like I had a horn growing out of the middle of my forehead,” Weiler said. “He had been a starting corner, a wideout and now I was approaching him about learning one more position. It was like, ‘What are you doing to me now?’ ”
Now they can hand off or throw to him. He’s had three 100-yard rushing games and two 100-yard receiving games. Hollins’s soccer training has helped him with field vision and changing speeds. Weiler said Hollins has some of the best pass-catching hands to come through the school in recent years, an attribute that Bruins soccer Coach Joe Soos attributes to the hand-eye coordination that soccer players often have because their foot-eye coordination is so keen.
“It’s really opened up our offense,” Lake Braddock Coach Jim Poythress said. “We’re much more balanced now. We had some kids that are good possession receivers, but we were looking for the home-run hitter. What we found out with this kid is that he can hit one wherever he lines up.”