Column: Hollins has heart of a lion

Green is the last color anyone expects to ever see a Lawrence High student wear. It belongs to cross-town rival Free State.

Then you hear the explanation, and it makes perfect sense. Kelly Green is the color worn to bring awareness to liver cancer, a disease that claimed the life of a mom who meant a great deal to not only her son but his teammates and coaches as well.

In a game with a fantastic finish, Lawrence High remained undefeated with a 31-28 victory vs. previously unbeaten Olathe North sealed with four seconds left.

The Lions did suffer a big loss in the spring when Schnette Hollins died 26 Fridays ago from liver cancer.

Schnette, survived by husband Ivan and their three children, lit up the Journal-World newsroom with her smile and spirit on a daily basis and had the same impact at her son Ivan Jr.’s LHS football games.

Friday’s game not only had an amazing finish — O-North rallying from a 24-7 deficit with five minutes left to take a 28-24 lead, only to lose when Alan Clothier and Luke Padia hooked up on a TD pass with four seconds left — it had a very cool start. All the seniors went onto the field and stopped at the hash marks, the point at which the officials allow just the three or four captains to advance to midfield.

For this game, just one person advanced.

“Two,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd corrected. “Just Ivan and his mom. She was there with him tonight.

“She was a huge part of our football team,” Wedd said. “She was a great mom. Did everything. If it meant fixing Friday breakfasts, she was there. If it was Thursday dinners, she was there.”

Her son honored her by putting his stamp all over the victory.

Hollins not only scored on a 20-yard touchdown reception, he played a part in slowing down the Eagles’ superstar receiver Isaiah Simmons, until Simmons dominated the final five minutes of the game with three touchdown receptions. Simmons, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds, finished with five catches for 120 yards.

Hollins is a 5-7, 160-pound senior, who had help all night from an outside linebacker in doubling Simmons.

“He’s a real tough receiver,” Hollins said of Simmons, whose brother Victor played for Kansas University. “You just try to play big, jump, do whatever you can.”

Clothier expressed gratitude for the job Hollins did Friday.

“He’s just a playmaker,” Clothier said. “You put him out there against a 6-4 Simmons he’s not going to back down. His size doesn’t matter. He’s got the heart of a lion. He’s going to make plays.

“He’s a heck of a football player. He works his tail off every day. What he’s gone through, it’s crazy how much of a man he is. He’s so mature. I respect him so much. He’s like a brother to me.”

Clothier said the players all knew how proud Hollins’ mom would have been on Senior Night, so they made it about her.

“She was a fantastic lady,” Clothier said. “A lot of people looked up to her. I looked up to her. She was like another mom to me. She always had a positive attitude and you see it in Ivan, too. He always has a positive attitude, no matter what. He kept his head up through the whole thing.”

And he kept his head on the football launched to him by J.D. Woods on a tailback option.

If you had just looked up from your popcorn in time to see Hollins catch a pass in the back of the end zone, you would have thought it was a beauty.

In many ways it qualified as just that. It landed, eventually, right into the receiver’s hands, sending the referee’s arms up to signal six points.

That’s all that matters, so it was swan-beautiful, like a Jim Furyk drive that rolls down the middle of the fairway, rendering meaningless the path his swing took to get the club square at impact.

Woods’ pass started as an ugly duckling, a wounded ugly duckling. The ball looked a bit like a punt, wobbling end over end until it landed right on target.

Woods to Wedd: “That was a great pass, coach.”

Wedd to Woods: “Duck season opens Saturday, not Friday.”

Hollins broke the tie: “I knew he would lead me perfectly. It’s just a matter of how much trust you have in your teammates and I have a whole lot of trust in J.D. It was a great pass.”

For a pass play that looked so bleak at the start to finish so splendidly and for a game that turned so sour for the Lions so suddenly to end so sweetly gave the night a divine-intervention feel to it.