PERRY — While playing football and wrestling at Perry, Corey Hollister was known for his toughness with the Yellowjackets. Not the biggest, not the strongest and not the fastest, Hollister was the first of a number of talented brothers that came though the system.

He was known for his heart and his passion for high school athletics and now that mentality is going to be put to the test in another way.

Recently, Hollister was named as the new head football coach at his alma mater and the 2013 Perry graduate knows that he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to return the ’Jackets to prominence.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was pretty cool to be taking over for the district I grew up in, but I know it’s not going to be easy,” Hollister said. “My role is going to be different than in previous years and we obviously have COVID-19 playing a factor in the upcoming season. It’s a new challenge that I look forward to tackling.”

After his career at Perry, Hollister went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University at Buffalo, where he was also on the wrestling team. Following his time with the Bulls, he would gain his Master’s in science education at SUNY Brockport, which in turn brought him back to Perry.

This will be Hollister’s fourth year with the Yellowjackets program, having previously worked as an offensive coordinator, focusing on the running backs and wide receivers, while also working with the defensive backs on the other side of the ball.

And following some solid years early last decade, it’s been tough sledding for the Yellowjackets in the recent past.

Since Hollister graduated following the 2013 season, Perry has had a pretty stretch and have gone just 14-37 with just one winning season — a 6-4 mark in 2018 when the Yellowjackets fell to Alexander in the Class D semifinals.

Last season Perry struggled to a 1-6 mark, though Hollister isn’t completely focused on the wins and losses.

“Right now, the priority is going to have to be safety, especially with COVID at the forefront,” he said. “On top of that, ensuring that the kids are enjoying this season is going to be huge. The student-athletes have missed their spring seasons and might not have been a part of organized sports for a while, so human interactions and getting back into the routine of sports are going to be a part of that enjoyment.”

Obviously, taking over a program of any sport at any level during the coronavirus pandemic will not be something that will come naturally or easily.

With new precautions and parameters set up and the fear of the unknown as to whether or not there will even be a football season, the job becomes that much harder but the first-year head coach is doing all he can under the current circumstances.

“The biggest struggle during COVID has been with the numbers and communication,” Hollister said. “I’ve been in contact with some of the student-athletes and we’ve had conversations on Google Hangout, but it’s been tough without the ability to hold off-season workouts. This is something that I hope will change as school starts up.”

It will be that numbers game that could also come up when, and if, the season begins.

A middle-of-the-road Class D team in terms of BEDs numbers in the past few seasons, Perry — like many other local teams — is at times struggling with overall athletes that are in the football program. With that comes the inevitable discussion of whether or not the Yellowjackets should move to 8-man football, which has increasingly become popular in both Section V and Section VI.

That decision, though, has not been finalized.

“As far as 8-man goes, we have not officially made a decision,” Hollister said. “There has been discussion, but we as a program and school are still weighing our options. I think it’s tough to say whether we’ll have a season. Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty, so you can never be sure. I just hope that our students will be able to play football at some point. We have a decent number of seniors and it would be unfortunate for them to not be able to have a final season.”

Hollister is no stranger to success at Perry.

In his final season, the Yellowjackets went 5-3, including a thrilling win over a good Le Roy team in 2013. As senior Hollister rushed for 87 yards and two scores, caught eight passes for 239 yards and another score and also finished with 44 tackles on the defensive end.

Now it is his mission to get Perry back up toward the top and get mentioned in the same breath as the other LCAA powerhouses that have ruled the area for years.

“I think the big thing here is building a culture that strives for and feeds on success,” Hollister said. “The past couple years have been rocky, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build on it. As a program, we’ll have to keep the student-athletes interested and enjoying their time so they feel the team is worthwhile. As we do that, we can focus on small successes in team relationships, practices, and games. Enough of those little successes will eventually create a tipping point for this team to experience the ‘larger’ successes the team dreams of.”

As a senior wrestler, Hollister — who teaches chemistry and physics — had an outstanding season on the mat, taking second in a close match at both the Class BB championship and the SuperSectional meet at 113 pounds.

From here on out, now he wants to start building something special at Perry that he saw during his tenure. It will take some time, but he believes he can get there.

“I want to start by building a culture that limits negativity and builds each individual on the team up,” Hollister said. “From here, we can focus on the small victories to grow and improve as a program. Eventually, other students in the school will see this and may want to be a part of it. This will help increase our numbers and get everyone excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To build the groundwork for this, we as a program will be focusing on fundamentals, positive habits, team work, and having fun during the upcoming season and in the future.”

As of now, football non-contact practices are scheduled to begin on September 21, though interscholastic games have not yet been approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association or Section V.

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