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Mary G. Montgomery quarterback Jared Hollins has committed to South Alabama, where he hopes to make as much of a difference for the Jaguars as he has for the Vikings. (Call News file photo)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
The first time new Mary G. Montgomery coach Zach Golson met Jared Hollins, he didn’t know what to expect when he escorted him to the school’s stadium and asked him to throw some footballs.
It was a scene reminiscent of “The Natural,” when the unknown Roy Hobbs joined the fictional New York Knights, stepped into the cage with his homemade bat Wonderboy and began denting seats with his crushing home runs.
Golson knew little of Hollins, except he had transferred back to MGM from George County High in Lucedale.
But when the lanky 6-foot-4 sophomore with braces on his teeth strode onto the grass, Hollins began unleashing tight spirals and throwing projectiles not seen on the property since deer were being shot before the school was built in the 1960s.
In between the reverberations, Golson worked to conceal his excitement.
“I tried not to let him know how impressed I was,” Golson said. “He’s a major difference maker.”
And now the University of South Alabama is hoping he will eventually be the same thing for the Jaguars.
Hollins — who passed for 2,152 yards, 21 touchdowns and only two interceptions last season in leading MGM to the state playoffs for the first time in 20 years — committed to USA as a rising senior.
The Jaguars won 10 games last season for the first time since becoming an NCAA FBS member, an upward trajectory Hollins wants to be involved with.
“I’m a hometown guy,” he said. “They want me to be the face of the program as it keeps developing. It’s trending in the right direction. They just had a 10-win season. It’s something I want to be a part of. My family could watch me play. I prayed about it until I had peace and when I had peace, that’s when I told them.”
Hollins said only a handful of Power 5 schools could change his mind if they offer him.
Hollins, who has a 4.0 unweighted GPA, has also been offered by North Carolina State, Boston College, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Marshall and Furman. He plans to major in electrical engineering.
But first he has some more aerial engineering to do for the Vikings.
“Last year was an average year,” Hollins said. “I don’t know how that sounds but my upside is high. I’m not playing anywhere near my peak. I’ve still got a lot of room to grow and be a better field general and be more efficient. God has blessed me with the ability to be a prospect.”
Golson recognized that immediately.
“The first time I saw him throw, I knew he was a major prospect,” Golson said. “It was his length and arm talent. I didn’t know how smart he was. I didn’t know how much he could handle mentally.”
The images are emblazoned in Golson’s memory.
“I’ve been coaching quarterbacks 15 years,” he said. “I played the position in college. I hadn’t taught him anything yet and his mechanics were almost flawless. He can make all the throws — the deep corner, the deep post, the go. He had barely warmed up and the ball just spun differently out of his hand. I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe this kid is standing here in our school.’”
He is expected to be standing on the Jaguars’ practice field next spring after enrolling early. When he gets there, he expects to compete for the starting job after senior quarterback Carter Bradley graduates.
“Whether I play right away or wait two or three years, I’ve got no problem putting my head down and getting better,” Hollins said. “Whenever that is, I’ll be ready to take over and take control. Coach (Kane Wommack) said the best guy will play, it’s just that simple.”
Golson said Hollins has the tangible skills and intangible fortitude to make an early impact at USA.
“You’re talking about an 18-year-old kid stepping into a team of 22- and 23-year-old guys,” Golson said, “but he’ll step on campus and as intelligent as he is, and the way he can make all the throws, he’ll compete for that job. He’ll find a way to separate himself. … He’s not even close to his ceiling. That’s what’s so exciting.”
Golson said Hollins’ footwork needs to improve but that’s not unusual.
“It’s always one of the things you’re always trying to perfect,” Golson said. “Even the best quarterbacks in the world are always trying to work on it.”
Those, of course, include quarterbacks in the NFL, which Golson believes could be Hollins’ ultimate destination.
“One-hundred percent,” Golson said. “You go back to his length and athleticism, that projects him to that level. He has that type frame. He has the work ethic and will go the extra mile. A lot will also depend on if he is a three-year or four-year starter. You start one year and it’s harder. The experience factor is big.”
Hollins’ experience will also be prominent this season as he tries to lead MGM farther than it’s ever gone with a deep playoff run.
“My kind of game before was to rely on guys getting open and depend on feel,” Hollins said. “I didn’t understand coverages and how to attack that. Now I have a better understanding of how defenses play us.”
That includes being given latitude to adjust plays.
“We don’t change a lot of plays in our system — we go so fast, we just don’t do it — but I have given him more responsibility with certain receivers to change a route,” Golson said. “We let them sight adjust. We give him a lot of different options within a play and he has to make the right decision and read it postsnap.”
Pregame and postgame, Hollins said Golson has done more than make him a better quarterback.
“He’s been crucial, a major help, but it goes further than games,” Hollins said. “People forget we are kids. They put us up on a pedestal but we are kids. Coach saw I needed help as a kid. He’s been a major help to me personally and on the field.”
Golson said Hollins’ natural leadership is a beautiful complement to his talent.
“He’s truly a special person, a special leader,” Golson said. “It wouldn’t matter what group of people he is with, he would make the people around him better and that’s what a leader does.”