*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on June 13, 2016.
Corey Hoelck remembers his time as a student manager for the Giltner High School football team nearly as much as he does playing on the varsity team.
His eighth grade year, he recalled two players specifically having a profound impact on him.
“My eighth grade year was when Logan Rath and Drew Ott were seniors and I was a student manager. Rath went to South Dakota State University and Ott to Iowa, so that motivated me,” Hoelck said.
Fast forward five years and Hoelck still feels that tie with those two local heroes, despite no longer being an impressionable eighth grader.
“I still talk with them a lot and Drew (Ott) has given me tours at Iowa,” he said. “I saw them and said, ‘I want to do that and go big’. They’ve been my motivation.”
Nowadays, Hoelck is the player others are looking up to. The six-foot four, 265lb. Hoelck is signed to play offensive line at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and this week, is slated to anchor the defensive line for the East team in the 2016 Nebraska 8-Man All-Star Game.
This Saturday’s game at Hastings College’s Lloyd Wilson Field gives Hoelck a chance to enjoy the often-overlooked sport of eight-man football one last time, before trying his hand at 11-man, college football in the fall.
“Just playing one more eight-man game, I ‘ve thought about it all week and I’ve played a lot of eight-man games during my life,” he said. “Playing one last one with all of these great football players is a fun thing.”
It wasn’t too long ago – just this past fall in fact – where Hoelck found himself representing a school and town that he loves to be a part of. Despite the Hornets’ uncharacteristic, opening round playoff lose to end Hoelck’s career, he continues to praise his hometown football program and their coaching staff for preparing him for this moment.
“I just fall back on the training at Giltner, and the weight training and hot practices that I’ve gone through,” he said. “Our coaches at Giltner have put us through so much.”
While he feels prepared by his experiences at Giltner, he realizes some of the unique challenges that an all-star game environment can pose.
“During practice at eight-man schools, you don’t go against the top notch talent every rep. Here (at the all-star game camp), everyone is really good,” he said. “You’re not the biggest guy on your team, but it’s going to be a really fun experience playing with these guys.”
Hoelck is excited for the game on Saturday, but is ready to start his college career at UNK. Two weeks from Saturday, he’s scheduled to report to campus and begin lifting and conditioning for the remainder of the summer.
He has big expectations heading into his freshman season.
“I want to play early and often…they said that I have a really good chance going in and playing,” he said. “I want to be on the field right away.”
Whether Hoelck will see the field right away is yet to be seen. But one thing you can guarantee – on Saturday, he’s prepared to show everyone what he and his town are all about.
“I want to show what Giltner is about. Everything we’ve been taught to be a good football player and everything everyone has heard about us,” he said. “That’s what I want to go out and show.”