Gridiron goodbyes

For more than two decades for Bruce and Jane Ollis, nearly two decades for Patrick and Patricia Overholt, autumns have meant watching sons play football.

Youth leagues, middle schools, high schools, colleges. Waiting on practices to end. Shivering through playoff games. Up before daylight on Saturdays for road games. Three Ollis sons, two Overholt sons, the routines rarely changing even when the jersey colors occasionally did.

Saturday, though, there will be a difference. When seniors Jordan Ollis and Andre Overholt, each a part of the starting backfield at Brevard College, leave the field following their regular-season finale against College of Faith, it will mark not only the end of their college careers but the closing of a life chapter for their parents, youngest sons stepping off the gridiron stage for the last time.

“We’ve tried not to think about it, because we end up crying,” Jane Ollis said. “Yes, there will be tears.”

“I thought about that last night,” said Patrick Overholt. “It’s been a great journey, so much fun. I would do it all over again.”

For the Ollis family, that journey began with their oldest son, Jim, who would blossom at Polk County into one of the state’s top players before going on to play at the Air Force Academy. Middle son Austin followed, also starring at Polk County, then playing two seasons for Air Force before joining the school’s rugby team and becoming a standout in that sport. Jordan Ollis turned his stellar Polk County career into a starting role at Brevard College, where he already owns a pair of school records and can set another one on Saturday, needing just 59 yards to post the best single-season rushing total in the program’s history.

“It has been a great source of gratification and pride,” Bruce Ollis, who coached all three sons at Polk County, said of their college careers. “What a pleasure it has been to travel and have the chance to see your own flesh and blood play on gridirons around the South and other venues across the country.

“I have not gotten around to thinking about (the end) yet. Probably because I have not wanted to. It will be bittersweet watching Jordan finish up his college career. He will do his student teaching in the spring and hopefully coaching with his old man next season.”

Football, of course, was a constant in the Ollis’ life before any of their four kids were born, with Bruce Ollis playing at Presbyterian College and then beginning his coaching career. Daughter Lauren was followed by three sons, and football was not far off once the boys became part of the household.

“They started out with footballs in their playpens,” Jane Ollis said. “Not that they didn’t have the option not to play, but it’s always been a part of life.

“Football is a big part of our lives, but that’s what we want.”

[aesop_image imgwidth=”50%” img=”” offset=”-100px” credit=”Jane Ollis photo” align=”right” lightbox=”on” caption=”Jordan Ollis, left, and Andre Overholt” captionposition=”left”]

Patrick Overholt’s oldest son, Derrick, first made football part of his life when he was eight. As Derrick grew and as the Overholt family grew, also eventually numbering four kids, football remained a central part of the everyday fall routine, with Andre, the third of the four children, soon following his older brother onto the field.

“It’s been a family event all the way through,” Patrick Overholt said. “Even when they were younger and playing recreation ball, we made it a family deal. One thing that was always very much so was that we did it as a family.

“When Derrick first started playing in high school, I didn’t even think about him playing college football. But when we realized the opportunity might be there to play college football, I told both of them that it was time to take this seriously, to work hard. Then when Derrick got that opportunity and earned a scholarship, I really encouraged Andre to work hard so that he might have the same chance.”

Derrick Overholt lettered four seasons at Presbyterian. Andre Overholt has had an equally successful career at Brevard, setting several school records as well as becoming the school’s first Academic All-District selection.

“It has been a tremendous blessing, a lot of fun to watch,” Patrick Overholt said. “Part of me is really going to miss it. Part of me says, wow, I’m going to be freed up all day on Saturdays.

“We’re facing it with mixed emotions. We’re absolutely going to miss it, but oh boy, have they done well. Now it’s time to start the next phase.”

That phase could include more road trips, with college athletics a possibility for the Overholts’ youngest daughter, Kara, a senior at Polk County. The family spirit that followed Derrick and Andre through their careers will bring much of the Overholt clan to Brevard on Saturday to celebrate Andre’s final game.

Jordan Ollis might have one more chance to take the field, having been chosen for The National Bowl all-star game next month in Miami. But for his family, the Brevard finale will represent an ending, and thus all three of Jordan’s siblings will fly in for the game to join their parents in the stands.

“No doubt this will be difficult,” Bruce Ollis said. “May get a lump in my throat before the final whistle blows.”

“I think they have a great chance to win, and I hope Jordan gets his (59) yards and sets the school record,” Jane Ollis said. “With everything else, we’re trying not to think about it. I’m just so proud of all of them and happy that we’re all going to be together.”

Family, football and fall, as it’s always been.

Note: All photos courtesy Jane Ollis