ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL)- In our new digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Jaxton Holly, a senior kicker on the Elizabethton football team.
In football, we’re just naturally drawn to the quarterback. They are always the star players with all the eyes on him.
But the kicker is a big time job itself.
“A kicker is a lot like a head coach, your one play, your one call you’re going to get a lot of congratulations and you’re going to get a lot of criticism,” Elizabethton head football coach Shawn Witten said.
That position is expected to be perfect. But Jaxton Holly, the Elizabethton kicker, is fine with that. He’s embraced it.
“I try to never miss, no matter what and if I miss I kinda get mad at myself and I sprint or something, or do pushups or something to get that in my head that it’s just really terrible if you miss,” Holly said.
Jaxton understands how important his position really is.
“You never worry about people not watching you because the game literally stops to watch you kick every single play,” Holly said.
“Jaxton is a senior, he’s been around here and he’s understood what it takes and it really goes back to Week 2 of the season where just letting him know that if you think that you do isn’t important or you think this season might not come down to a kick, you’re wrong. You got to keep working and keep yourself ready,” Witten said.
That’s exactly what happened a couple weeks ago, when the No. 2 Cyclones welcomed No. 1 Greeneville to town.
“Friday night’s game had more on the line for that game as far as home playoffs, conference championship, seeding, not having to travel and we know where our road has gone the last two years and how difficult it is,” Witten said.
It was a massive game, tied at 21-21 with under a minute to go.
“I thought that our last two drives we really put it together and then when we put the ball in the middle of the field I knew we had practiced that situation a thousand times, and right there I knew we were in position to win the game,” Witten said.
They just knew it was going to come down to Jaxton.
“With 15 seconds left we moved it to the middle of the field, spotted it, called a timeout so we knew if we made it we won the game and if we missed it it was going to go into overtime,” Witten said.
So there Jaxton was, expected to be perfect yet again.
“I try to swallow the nerves, just pretend it’s like practice or an extra point so like Friday night, on that one I was pretending in my head I was kicking an extra point so I just kicked it the same way,” Holly said.
He hit it, giving Elizabethton the 24-21 win.
“He had an opportunity to really leave his stamp on this program, on his legacy and he did that and he’ll go down, people will remember him and remember that kick and that’s a great thing for him and his family,” Witten said.
Yes his family will treasure it too, including his brother, Braden Holly who was the holder on that kick.
“When he kicked it, to be honest with you it started hooking left and I was like ‘man he missed it,’ but somehow it barely stayed in and I was pretty excited I went crazy, I think we all went crazy,” Braden Holly said.
On a play that nerve-racking, it’s got to help to have his brother right there by his side.
“Yeah I was a little nervous just about you know getting the snap down but I talked to Jaxton before the kick and he said he wasn’t nervous at all, so that kind of helped me I guess to not be so nervous,” Braden Holly said.
“If there’s anybody I needed to talk to it would have been him so he was just chatting to me like ‘don’t miss this, I know you can make it’ and stuff like that,” Jaxton Holly said.
For Jaxton, there’s no reason to be nervous about a kick on a football field. He’s been through so much worse off the field.
“Yeah I mean when he first came back, you’re talking about a kid that was playing any sport there was, to not being able to walk,” Jason Holly, Jaxton’s dad said.
When he was eight years old, Jaxton’s health rapidly declined, and was taken to the Children’s Hospital at Johnson City Medical Center.
“Then the next thing you know we’re in the Children’s Hospital, they diagnose him very quickly of what’s in his blood,” Jason Holly said.
Holly says the complications started with contracting the H1N1 flu virus, and turned to rhabdomyolysis, which resulted in myoglobinuria forming in his blood.
He was flown on a direct medial flight to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“It was crazy, I mean the night they were deciding what to do with Jaxton, they weren’t quite sure if he was going to make it, if he wasn’t,” Jason Holly said.
He lost nearly 20% of his body mass, and was forced to learn how to walk and run again. But over the course of a month, Jaxton slowly recovered.
“He was tough, and he made it through it and next thing you know we’re back here, so, pretty crazy,” Jason Holly said, who is also the PA announcer at Elizabethton home football games.
He’s fortunate to have not lost his life, but he’s not thinking about that right now. This is his time to soak in this moment.
“I think I told my team I get one day with it, just one day to say whatever I wanted about it and then be done with it,” Jaxton Holly said.
“I don’t think it really hit Jaxton until the next day at church, our pastor recognized him and he got a standing ovation at church and so I think that’s when he realized ‘this is a bigger deal than just a kick,'” Jason Holly said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.