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Article updated: 11/14/2011 9:54 PM
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Holl enjoying Batavia's ride, this time as a coach
 

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Holl enjoying Batavia's ride, this time as a coach
  • Photo by Craig Brueske

  •  Brandon Holl, above, was a key part of Batavia's 2006 team that reached state, and Holl has returned this year to serve as a volunteer assistant coach on the 12-0 Bulldog squad that is one win away from returning to state.

    Brandon Holl, above, was a key part of Batavia's 2006 team that reached state, and Holl has returned this year to serve as a volunteer assistant coach on the 12-0 Bulldog squad that is one win away from returning to state. Daily Herald file photo

On Saturday afternoon, Batavia's football team will play what could be the biggest home game in school history.

The unbeaten Bulldogs (12-0) will face Prairie Ridge (11-1) before an expected standing room only crowd in the Class 6A state semifinals.

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The game will pit the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs against the second-seeded Wolves, whose only blemish on their schedule was a 1-point overtime loss to Cary-Grove in Week 9.

Win and you'll earn a trip to Champaign to play in the 6A state championship Nov. 26 at Memorial Stadium.

Perhaps no one knows what is going through the minds of Batavia players like Noel Gaspari, Cole Gardner, Alec Lyons, Sean Oroni, and others this week better than Brandon Holl.

Five years ago, Holl and his younger brother Shane were preparing for the Bulldogs' state semifinal game against archrival Geneva at Burgess Field.

Five years later, Holl is helping prepare the Bulldogs for a possible return trip to the Class 6A final four as a volunteer coach.

He's pinching himself on a daily basis.

"If anyone said they'd ever be experiencing anything as memorable as what we did just five years apart, they'd be lying," said Holl.

"I can't get over how much fun this has been. You definitely feel like a part of it."

The fact that Holl is a part of it at all seemed a bit unlikely just a few months ago.

"It kind of happened over the summer," recalled Holl. "My dad ran into Coach (Dennis) Piron and he asked what I was up to."

Holl, who graduated from Augustana College this past spring, is currently taking classes at Waubonsee Community College while preparing to take the CPA exam.

Upon hearing that Piron was looking for a volunteer coach to help on the defensive side of the ball, Holl seemed a logical choice considering his time spent playing linebacker in high school and college.

But first things first.

"I was hesitant at first primarily because I wanted to be 100 percent committed to doing it," said Holl. "As soon as I found out it would work well with my schedule, I called Coach Piron and asked, 'when's the first practice?'

"Plus, I was getting bored at home."

Holl sees several similarities between the 2006 and 2011 teams.

"This team is a lot like ours," said Holl, who has helped assistant coach Ben Hankes with the defensive backs while aiding the linebackers and defensive line during games.

"They don't do a lot of yelling at each other," added Holl. "And they do a good job of diminishing the highs and lows.

"The biggest compliment I can give is that there's no weak spot to it. They proved it earlier in the season against Geneva. When (quarterback Noel) Gaspari got hurt, we went to the ground game to move the ball. But we've also got the capability of spreading the field with five-receiver formations."

Defensively, the Bulldogs' secondary has been downright sticky-fingered with 18 interceptions, led by Jon Gray, Mike Moffatt, Robbie Bowman, and Kevin Schroeder.

"I've helped them mainly with footwork and agility moves but these guys are good enough athletes to make plays on their own," said Holl.

Piron couldn't be happier to have Holl aboard as a volunteer assistant, along with Steve Bailey, Bryan Hills, Greg Schroeder, and Bob Bowman.

"Brandon's a perfect guy to have around," said Piron. "He's got a great relationship with the players and coaching staff. I wish he could stay with us forever but I understand that it sometimes interferes with the reality of making a living."

Bailey, a longtime volunteer coach, has served as an on-the-field quarterbacks coach working with Noel Gaspari.

"Steve is more of an offensive-minded coach who has developed a great relationship with Noel," said Piron. "He has had a very calming influence on him."

The volunteer coaches have joined an already stellar group of assistants, including offensive coordinator Mike Gaspari, defensive coordinator Matt Holm, PJ White, Bill Kettering, Kevin Jensen, Larry Gay, Derrick Whitwell, Pete Heimsath, Scott Bayer, Adam Kolowski, and Hankes.

"It truly is a group effort," said Piron, who has won his first 12 games as head coach. "We've got a nice mix of young and veteran coaches who really know football.

"It's a fantastic staff of guys who are committed, hardworking, and unselfish."

Holl, whose collegiate playing career was shortened due to a torn ACL (right knee) as a junior and torn ACL (left knee) during his senior year, would love to continue coaching in some capacity down the road.

"I've talked with my friends about coaching football together some day, even if it's at the Pee-Wee level," said Holl. "It's just a notch below playing yourself."

The Bulldogs' season-long success brings up special memories for Holl.

"As a player, you begin to notice the whole community rallying behind you the farther you go (in the playoffs)," he said. "You see the trees with ribbons on them in town.

"You're the kings of school during football season, and it can carry you through the rest of the year. A lot of players asked me about our state run (of 2006), especially early in the season, and now I see them acting the same way we did. Practices can get so mundane during the course of the season. But when you're winning, everybody is excited and you can't wait to get to practice."

Watching things from the sidelines, Holl has an added appreciation for his fellow coaches.

"You take it for granted as a player but now you realize how much work they put in," said Holl. "They spend countless hours preparing for games."

Holl expects a wild scene at Bulldog Stadium Saturday.

"It'll be like playing in a bowl stadium," said Holl. "I remember playing our semifinal at Geneva and it seemed like a home game with all the Batavia fans there. It was a great atmosphere."

He also knows what is at stake.

"The excitement of getting to the state championship game -- it means everything," said Holl.

Take it from someone who has been there.

You can reach Craig Brueske at csb4k@hotmail.com

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