Triumphant return

HILLMAN-Nearly every time junior Kenny Kolcan has touched the ball this season, good things have happened for the Hillman football team.

Through four games, Kolcan has 628 yards on 58 carries with 11 touchdowns and provides the perfect complement to the Tigers’ high-scoring passing attack.

“Teams have to be on their feet because they don’t know if we’re going to run or we’re going to pass,” junior wide receiver Mason VanPamel said. “Kenny’s a good running back and he can get those yards for us.”

Having Kolcan is the backfield this season is a welcome sight to his teammates, but it’s also a reminder of how hard he worked to get there. A broken leg robbed him of most of his sophomore season in 2012 and Kolcan spent a lot of time recovering and getting stronger to return to the gridiron.

Eager to rebound from last season, Kolcan’s big-play ability already has been on display this year and he’s seemingly picked up where he left off last season.

“To be able to run and be able to help my team and carry us to victory, it just feels great knowing that I’m doing something important for us and helping us out it’s awesome,” Kolcan said.

Kolcan made quite the splash in Hillman’s 2012 season opener, rushing for two scores and 201 yards in a 27-14 win over Gaylord St. Mary. It seemed Kolcan might be in for a big year.

The next game changed that outlook.

Hillman’s week two game pitted the Tigers against Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. Midway through the first quarter, Kolcan was back for a kick return and instantly felt pain in his leg once he was tackled on the play.

“I just thought it was a pretty good charley horse and my coach was like, ‘Walk it off.'” I walked 20 yards down the field, walked 20 more yards back to the bench and I was like, ‘OK, this is not something I need to walk off,'” Kolcan said.

The pain in Kolcan’s right leg wasn’t a charley horse at all. It was a broken fibula.

Hillman went on to lose the game 42-0, but the Tigers faced a bigger issue. Once the severity of Kolcan’s injury was diagnosed, it meant he would be out of action for at least a month and a half.

“It was a little heartbreaking, him being a sophomore and one of our better ball carriers,” Hillman coach Bill Koenig said. “All of a sudden your utility player and running back is out and you’re sort of scrambling. You’re trying to build for the future and Kenny was going to be the future at running back.”

For Kolcan, the injury meant being away from the football field and doing laser therapy twice a week for a month. The therapy is a pain-free treatment designed to help heal bone and muscles faster and increases circulation, strengthens the response of the immune system and stimulates the body’s cells using different frequencies.

Kolcan used a walking boot and crutches for a while, but when he was given clearance by doctors to start running, lifting and putting pressure on his leg, he wasted no time. His leg was still sore for a while, but Kolcan showed no lack of motivation, putting himself through a rigorous training regimen that included lots of squats.

“Every day he was in the weight room. We didn’t push him at all, he knew he had to get in there and get back to the season,” Hillman junior quarterback Ty Jones said.

With Kolcan out of the lineup, the Tigers turned to other options in the backfield, which turned into a by-committee approach. Alex Cheek moved in early October and VanPamel eventually was injured. By the end of the season, Mike Klein and David Olschanski became Hillman’s main backfield threats and played well in limited time.

Kolcan returned for Hillman’s regular season finale against Hale and the Tigers’ playoff loss to Johannesburg-Lewiston the following week, but saw limited playing time.

Hillman has implemented more elements of a pro-style offense this season, but Kolcan still remains an important part of the Tigers’ offense.

“When you have a running back like Kenny, it just frees up your pass so much more, with the defense can’t just key in on the pass, they have to be on their toes for Kenny too,” Jones said.

Do they ever.

Kolcan didn’t have to wait long this season to show opposing defenses why. He scampered for 181 yards on 18 carries with four touchdowns in Hillman’s season-opening 55-54 win over St. Mary and showed off his big-play ability in the process. With two minutes left in the game, Kolcan found a hole on a third-down play and dashed up the right side to paydirt for a 73-yard score on Hillman’s game-winning drive.

Last week against Rogers City, Kolcan ran wild again, gaining 150 yards on 11 carries. His biggest play came in the third quarter when he again found a hole and took off down the right side. Seeing defenders coming at him, Kolcan cut back to his left around midfield and raced to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown, which gave Hillman a 34-0 lead.

Plays like these have not only helped the Tigers win games, they’re also exciting for his team to watch.

“It’s really exciting. Just when it looks like a play is going to be shut down for a four or five yard gain, all of a sudden he busts things open,” Koenig said. “It gives you confidence in your play calling too as a coach; you send him a run and you see where he might be getting blown up, the next thing you know he’s turning in for six.”

Hillman running backs haven’t shied away from shouldering a heavy load in recent years. Caleb Zimmer had 151 carries in 2011, second-highest in the area and Joe Mercer had 169 carries in 2010, also second highest in the area.

Kolcan’s ability to pick up big chunks of yardage has helped the Tigers’ passing game early in the season. With a balanced attack, Jones has completed more than 60 percent of his passes and three receivers have more than 100 yards on the year.

With the season nearly at its midway point, the Tigers are counting on Kolcan to be a workhorse as they make a push for an eighth straight playoff berth.

“With me last year having a bad year, I definitely wanted to come out and just take care of everything,” Kolcan said. “(We) just to go out and play every game like it’s our last, just play hard all four quarters and try to win every game we can.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.