BY DAN STICKRADT
HOLLY — For many years while growing up in the community of Holly, Johnny Williams had visions of righting the ship.
No, Holly is not a lakeside town with a shipping industry. In fact, it is nestled in the hills of northwestern Oakland County, far away from any major body of water. Williams was thinking more metaphorically.
He was looking towards the days of when he would be a high school student-athlete and suiting up for Holly’s football program — a program that was definitely in need of a change of course.
“When I was younger, Holly wasn’t very good,” recalled Williams, now a senior in high school.
That’s an understatement. Until last season, Holly’s success story has been…well, there hasn’t been much success at all.
Over the past 60 years Holly has struggled, to put it kindly. Dating back to 1950, there have only been 15 seasons where the Bronchos finished above the five-hundred mark. There were four other times the school finished right at .500, but those all came in the 1950s or 1960s.
Until recently, the situation had been downright bad in the past 30 years. There have only been five winning seasons in that time period at Holly —1984, 1989, 2006, 2010 and 2011. The Bronchos went from 1990 through 2005 without a winning season, 16 straight seasons with four or fewer wins.
“We knew there was not much history,” said Williams. “We have talked about it for a long time. We wanted to change that once we got to high school.”
From 1965 through 2010, Holly never won more than six games in a season. Last year, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Williams and the Bronchos broke down several barriers.
Not only did the Bronchos finish 7-3 and reach the postseason for only the third time (2006, 2010 and 2011), Holly snapped a 59-year streak of not winning a conference championship. It was Holly’s highest win total since 1965, when it finished 8-1 but did not win a league title. Holly shared the Flint Metro League title with Lapeer East last season, winning its final seven games of the regular season to reach the goal.
“That was an incredible feeling,” recalled Williams. “That was one of our goals all along, what we dreamed about as kids.”
Holly celebrated by raising a banner at a home basketball game in February, a celebration six decades in the making.
This season, Williams and Co. have bigger goals set in place. Holly would love to win back-to-back league titles for the first time since the 1940s. They would also love to win the first playoff game in school history.
When the Bronchos reached the postseason in 2006, 2010 and 2011, they found a quick exit.
In 2006, Holly was ousted by Oxford (6-0). In 2010 with Williams as a sophomore starting quarterback, the Bronchos were blasted by Walled Lake Central (46-6). Last year, it was a 33-14 defeat by South Lyon.
“Our goal is to try to get back to the playoffs and win a game,” smiled Williams. “That has never been done before.”
Williams is a big part of Holly’s comeback in recent years. The athletic and quick player, who is starting to garner some Division I and Division II looks by colleges, was the Flint Metro League MVP last season. He is a two-time all-league selection who ranks among Holly’s all-time greatest quarterback and should break several career records this season if the Bronchos live up to being one of the top teams in the league this season.
“We have never made the playoffs three straight times,” said Williams. “We went (59) years without a league title, so I don’t even know if we have ever won back-to-back league championships.”
Holly coach Ryan Culloty believes he has the right signal-caller in charge.
“Johnny is a great athlete and leader,” he said. “He has already led us to a pair of playoff berths and to the league title last season. We lost some good kids to graduation, but we still have some talent on this team. Having Johnny at quarterback will give us plenty of experience and the leadership that we need. We don’t have the depth we had last season. But we do have good kids. Johnny has become a great leader and a more complete footballplayer.”
Williams had a banner junior season, helping the Bronchos to their first league title since 1952. He finished with 1,062 passing yards and 1,095 rushing yards. He scored 15 total touchdowns for a team that scored 261 total points, the second most in school history. Only the 1964 team scored more (285), but that team didn’t finish as a league champion such as Williams and the 2011 squad.
Williams is also a fine track runner, placing in four events at the FML league meet last spring. He runs the 100 and 200 meters and also rotates on the three sprint relays. He helped Holly win league titles as a freshman and sophomore and finish as a league runner-up as a junior in the sport.
Football, however, is his love — and so is living the dream of helping resurrect a once doormant football program.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Williams. “But were not done yet.”
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