Whitman-Hanson Regional High football senior captain Riley Holland is one snap of the pigskin away from making history.
This Thanksgiving, when Holland assumes his post in the heart of the Panthers offensive line — at center — with Green Wave defenders breathing down his neck, he will have started his 44th-consecutive game on offense, which is a school record.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for me,” Holland said. “I came in and I never really expected to start as a freshman.”
It was with good reason that Holland didn’t expect to assume an everyday role at the varsity level during his first year of high school, because it was rare a freshman even made the team in the first place. However, Panthers head coach Mike Driscoll said it was during the summer – just a few months before Holland was set to embark on ninth grade – when ‘this kid’ kept showing up to offseason lifting sessions. Driscoll had no idea who it was at the time, but he knew he was going to be on his team.
“I talked to the freshman coach and told him, ‘You’re not going to be able to get him, he’s just too big and strong, he’s going to have to play right away,’” Driscoll said.
Holland spent his first two seasons at left tackle for the Panthers before being shuffled to center – where he would remain throughout his career. Holland said the move was a tough one, but it was necessary to assure his team’s success.
“Having to move inside and learn a new position, blocking schemes from a different point of view of the offense, and everything, that was kind of a big obstacle to get over,” Holland said. “But I had to do it.”
Driscoll described Holland, who makes all the Panthers’ line calls, as more than a just a player on the gridiron.
“He brings a presence about him that the kids know when he’s there, just kind of that coach mentality that they got to be on their game with him, but they respect him,” Driscoll explained. “He’s light when he need to be light, but when Riley’s serious, everybody knows it’s time to get serious. He’s a great leader on and off the field.”
It was that leadership that played an integral role in helping the Panthers engineer a 21-point comeback to shock Abington, 29-28, last Thanksgiving.
“Time after time he was 15, 20, 30 yards down field making blocks down the field, to get us back into that game,” Driscoll said. “He was a huge part of that.”
School record aside, Holland said he has one goal when all is said and done with this Turkey Day.
“I’m the only one left in the program that’s lost on Thanksgiving and I don’t want anyone else to have that feeling,” Holland said.