When Don Holl, Seneca Valley’s head coach of the varsity football team, came up with with a motto for this year’s team, he had several reasons for settling on “Don’t Blink.”
Holl, who also is a history teacher, told players the phrase “Don’t Blink” harks back to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, an uncertain time when the United States stood toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union over nuclear weapons in Cuba. U.S. leaders refused to look away, and a potential war was averted.
In the popular country song “Don’t Blink,” Kenny Chesney sings of savoring life’s moments that pass by too quickly. “Don’t Blink” also refers to the fast, uptempo style of play the Seneca Valley football team has adopted this year, as in “blink and you’ll miss it.”
No matter which meaning the members of Holl's Raiders team might favor, together they aren’t batting an eye.
After last Friday’s victory over the Shaler Area Titans, the Seneca Valley Raiders are 5-2 and poised to enter theWPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. Key to helping them get there are Jordan Brown and Forrest Barnes, a pair of juniors.
“We’re not going to back down, and we’re not going to blink first,” Holl said.
At 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Brown, 17, has accumulated 1,525 passing yards and is one of the top throwing quarterbacks in the WPIAL. He earned his starting position last year after then-senior Donny Holl, the coach’s son, was injured. For Brown, taking control of the ball that night meant learning how to make the most of nervous energy.
“I had a lot of that going on in my head, but I was able to channel it and put it on the field,” he said.
Barnes is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. Lightning-fast, the 16-year-old running back has rushed for 727 yards this season. Like Brown, he got his chance to start last year while still a sophomore. When asked if he hears a lot of “Run Forrest!”—one of the more famous quotes from the movie "Forrest Gump," starring Tom Hanks—he grinned and said, “Yeah.” He was born just after the movie was released in 1994.
Together, Brown and Barnes have made some of the team’s biggest plays. While Brown has a full range of offensive weapons, including senior wide receiver Oliver Philogene and senior running back Troy Witt, Barnes is one of his favorite targets.
“We kind of lean on each other,” Brown said.
Ask either of them about their individual accomplishments though, and both quickly credit the rest of their teammates for their success on the field.
“Both of them realize they’ve had the opportunity to handle the ball more than most,” Holl said. “We have an awful lot of guys who never touch the ball but who give them that success. Because of the plays they make, we’re successful as a team.”
Nor will the juniors think ahead to the playoffs just around the corner. They said they prefer to take things one game at a time.
That’s not to say they don’t have regrets. Although they try not to look back, Barnes and Brown admit their 49-28 loss in September to the North Allegheny Tigers, last year’s state champions, still stings.
“We were excited to show North Allegheny the kind of team we are this year, but we didn’t play the way we wanted to,” Barnes said. “But the past is the past.”
When they’re not playing football, Barnes said he enjoys hanging out with friends, volunteering with his church and spending time with his twin sister, Olivia. Brown, a golfer, enjoys the greens.
In the future, Brown, whose favorite class is Holl's history course, hopes to make it into the National Football League. Although college recruiters already are checking him out, Brown said he hasn’t decided where he wants to attend school.
Barnes also dreams of playing in the NFL. If his future isn't on the playing field, he wants to become a sports agent, analyst or coach. His favorite class is argument, where he said he's learned public speaking skills and how to express his opinions.
Both boys keep up with their academic obligations. Brown keeps his grades above par, and Barnes said his parents won't let him play sports if his grade point average slips below 3.0. That’s fine with him. His GPA is about a 3.4.
“It motivates me to do better,” he said. “School is very important to me and to my family.”
The team is now preparing for this week’s opponent. The Raiders play the North Hills Indians at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Anything after that, they’ll be approaching one game at a time.
“The playoffs will take care of themselves if you take care of your week-to-week business,” Holl said.