FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the surprise personnel-based stories of the New England Patriots' preseason was undrafted free-agent tight end Jacob Hollister of Wyoming making the 53-man roster.
Now, not only has Hollister made it, he’s also been part of the 46-man game-day roster each of the past four weeks.
“He’s a young guy that does a lot of things that can help you on the field,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He runs well. He’s been able to create some separation in the passing game. He’s learning still how to handle all the different coverage variations that you see at the NFL level -- what you need to do versus zone, versus man -- [but] he’s continually working extremely hard. He gets reps in practice and works hard with those reps to try to make progress each week and feel like that he’s a guy that as you move forward into the year, hopefully you see a lot of improvement, and he can really help us and make some plays as we move forward.”
The 6-foot-4, 239-pound Hollister caught everyone’s attention with his toughness and sure hands in the preseason opener against the Jaguars. That continued into the regular season as a backup to veterans Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, with his highlight play a 19-yard catch against the Texans, on which he took a big hit but still hung on to the football.
The 23-year-old Hollister, who grew up in Bend, Oregon, with his twin brother Cody (a receiver on the Patriots practice squad), shares his football journey as part of ESPN.com’s weekly feature:
When he first started playing football: “Pretty much when we were first allowed to, as soon as our dad told us we didn’t have to play soccer anymore. I think we were 7 years old.”
First positions: “Quarterback. Cody played running back.”
Favorite teams and players growing up: “I always liked the Packers, and I was always a quarterback guy, so I loved Brett Favre. He was kind of always my idol growing up; his toughness, it was rare he would miss a game, let alone a play. Crazy arm strength, which I never had as a quarterback. It was fun watching him play.”
Role models in his life: “My parents have definitely been good role models for me. And my brother, spiritually and as a man, I know it sounds cliché but he’s always kept me on track whenever I’ve needed to get back on the straight path. I really appreciate him for that.”
Favorite football memories at Mountain View High School: “State championship, 2012 [actually 2011], my senior year. We had a really good, close team. It was us and Sherwood, which is another high school who we were always battling out with; they had this major triple-option-type team. It was 14-13, we held them off at the end.”
Walking on at Nevada with Cody: “We thought we were going to get a bunch of offers, but were late-bloomer type of guys, so we ended up at Nevada and redshirted, and worked in the weight program. Just a semester there, as there was a coaching change. It was also really expensive, being out of state.”
Transferring to Arizona Western College: “They do scholarships in Arizona for juco, and Coach [Tom] Minnick offered us scholarships, which was a blessing. It was a grind, for sure. That juco life, you’re kind of out on your own in Yuma, Arizona, you’re 15 minutes from the border. Me and Cody, once again, were together, and that was really nice.”
Favorite football memory at Arizona Western: “There were a lot of good games, but I’d say most of all the guys on the team and how different it was to have a lot of guys who came from different backgrounds and troubled backgrounds, and being able to relate to those guys. I felt like we could all help each other. I still stay connected with them, so it’s more off-field relationships I built.”
Earning a scholarship at Wyoming: “It was Wyoming, New Mexico State and Troy. It was actually kind of a toss-up, because Wyoming had just changed its coaching staff to Coach [Craig] Bohl while I was committing there. I wasn’t sure if Coach Bohl was going to offer me, so it was craziness there for a little while, and Cody got the Arkansas offer, but he also had a Wyoming offer. He ended up committing to Arkansas, and I went home that Christmas and was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be coming back to juco for another year or driving out to Wyoming.’ Coach Bohl ended up offering me again, and that was a relief.”
Top football memories at Wyoming: “One of them was the Boise State game, because they were ranked 13th when we beat them my senior year. Then just being able to play in the Mountain West [Conference] championship game; we didn’t bring it home, but that was just an awesome experience, and the amount of support we had from the fans there was just awesome. It’s an awesome community.”
Expectations of a football future in the NFL: "I had been asking a lot of guys who had been through it and played at Wyoming. I lucked out getting a good agent [Kyle Strongin] and then ended up traveling over to Arkansas to train. I had a good feeling I might get drafted, but you never know. So going into it, I didn’t want to have any expectations. But in the back of my head, as I was training, I knew it was really about how once you get somewhere, it’s how you'd play.”
Signing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent, along with Cody: “Awesome. I don’t think you could ask for a better place, a better organization to work for. The guys in the locker room are just awesome guys. Every single guy is a stand-up guy who you would introduce to your family and hang out with them. A really good culture.”
What he loves about football: “How it brings guys from different backgrounds together. It’s unbelievable. You might see it in some work environments, but to have so many guys who come from different backgrounds and still being able to relate. One thing I think you’ll find at this level, with guys who have made it this far, everyone has probably gone through some type of adversity that keeps them going. I think it’s really cool when you can all come together and relate on a level like that.”
Summing up his football journey: “It’s just been a blessing. I think if you look at how I got here, it doesn’t make sense. From walking on at Nevada, then going the juco path, and then some little bumps I’ve gone through. God has blessed me in a lot of ways. One thing Cody and I talk about is how once you get to this point you realize it’s so much more about not quitting than it is about anything else. Because there have been so many times when you just have to realize, ‘There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s going to be a grind here, and you just have to keep going through it and working together and make it happen.’”