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Holleman ready to lead 2017 Cougars

Taylor Holleman checks with an official to make sure he is not lining up offsides during the 2016 homecoming game against Martin Luther College. Holleman had five catches for 50 yards in the UMM win. (Brooke Kern / Stevens County Times)

When the University of Minnesota, Morris football team starts practice on Aug. 10, Taylor Holleman will be a leader on the field.

Holleman, a UMM senior and Hancock native, was named one of the captains this season after spring practice.

“His leadership will be very valuable, especially helping the young guys learn our program,” said Robert Cushman, who enters his third year as head coach of the UMM football program.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE: Cushman resigned Friday, Aug. 4. Marty Hoffman and Matthew Johnson have been named co-head coaches for the 2017 season. More on that here.

“An honor,” Holleman said of being voted captain. “The players vote, which even means more that your teammates respect you and view you as a leader.”

Holleman made an impact last season as a receiver for the Cougars.  His impact could be even bigger this year as the Cougars’ two top receivers, Kyle Petermeier and Evan Guffey, graduated in 2016.

“Replacing Evan Guffey and Kyle Petermeier will be difficult,” Cushman said. “Both had outstanding careers and made big plays for us the last couple years. That is why Taylor will be critical to our success. He had a very good junior year and I am expecting him to be great this fall.”

Holleman knows he will contribute in 2017, but he also looks forward to seeing who else steps up.

“I was surprised with how good we looked as a group during spring ball,” Holleman said. “My goal is to just lead this group and do whatever it takes to get W's on Saturdays.”

His years with the Cougars have been roller coaster with the program. The Cougars went 0-10 his freshman season and pulling off a 6-4 overall record last year.

“My career didn't get off to the best start going without a win as a freshman, but we were young. It was big for experience, I started like the last four games of the year,” Holleman said. “I had to get used to playing receiver as I played QB since junior high through high school.”

Cushman was hired in 2015 and the Cougars went 4-6 in his first season. Cushman followed that year up with a 6-4 record in 2016, the first winning record for UMM football since 2012.

Holleman was a big part of last year’s success as he was one of three receivers with more than  40 catches.

“He has great ball skills, runs great routes, has greatly improved his blocking, and is very good running with the football as well,” Cushman said of Holleman. “He will play primarily slot but can play wide receiver as well. We plan to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.”

Holleman will be joined by four wide receivers and / or tight ends added to the roster in the fall: Cameron Geyer of Coon Rapids, Matthew Laur of Irondale, Owen Peterson of Rosemount, and Cyaron “Cy” Williams of Robert Service, Alaska.

Holleman had 41 catches for 457 yards in 2016. He also had 14 carries for 57 yards. That was primarily under quarterback Donnie Mavencamp, who also graduated in the spring. Next in line is Justin Masloski, who started a few games while Mavencamp was injured.

“Justin and I have been good friends since he stepped on campus, and we share the 9-man football connection as well, which is pretty cool. He started one game [last year] and played with great poise against one of the top teams in the conference. He looked great this spring and learned a lot from Donnie this past year so he will be ready to roll.”

Masloski likes to run the ball, which will help keep defenses on its heels.

“He is an outstanding runner and has greatly improved as a passer. He is very smart, tough and loves to play the game… All qualities I like in a QB,” Cushman said.

“I think we will be better at running the option this year to be honest. Justin is one of the fastest guys on the team, which will put pressure on the defenses. The option will help out our passing game, too, as teams will bite on play actions,” Holleman said. “Another thing for a young QB is just having someone to trust out on the field, so when you are in trouble they can rely on someone to be in the right spot and just throw it up to him. I hope I can be that big body for him.”

Along with the QB position, the Cougars have several incoming freshman to push returning running back Caleb Kemp. UMM graduated JC Cummings, who gained 358 yards on the ground last year. Graduating Chandler Erickson, Colin Everson, and Clayton Douvier on defense is a concern, said Cushman, but the biggest question mark will be the offensive line.

“Sophomore Nathan Laurence returns along with Adam Kiefer, but we lost four starters,” Cushman said of the O-line. “The young guys will play a major role in our success.”

The Cougars have a scrimmage schedule against Minnesota State Fergus Falls at the end of the month as a final tuneup for the 2017 season opener against Martin Luther College at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, in Morris.

“Overall, I feel like we can be very competitive, but with so many young guys you just never know,” Cushman said. “We can't afford injuries as we have very little depth, especially on both lines. We need to have a great fall camp and pre-season practices. I'll be very interested to see this team play. If we can develop our talent and get some confidence early then we have a chance to keep moving the program forward.”

Brooke Kern

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