By Tyler Waldrep
Almost two years ago, Clay Holstad watched his older brother, Hunter Holstad, represent Oak Mountain in the North-South All-Star boys’ soccer game.
As a fan of the sport, Clay Holstad admired the talent on display; as his brother’s biggest fan, he cheered; and as a player, he added another goal to his list.
“It was always something I strove for,” Clay Holstad said. “I mean, during the season it’s not really on your mind, but it’s in the back of your head. Every once and awhile you’re thinking, ‘I want to do that. I really think I can.’”
For the third year in a row, Oak Mountain soccer coach Dan DeMasters was able to give one of his players the good news regarding the All-Star game, but there was a little more to the cele- bration this year. DeMasters was select- ed to coach the boys North team, being played at the Emory Folmar Soccer Complex July 18 at 7 p.m.
“He’s a great coach and I really think he deserves it,” Clay Holstad said. “And he’s won three state champion- ships in a row, so it really speaks highly of him.”
Of course, the two celebrated Clay Holstad’s selection to the North team, but they didn’t dwell on it long before they were back to business as usual. They were in the middle of a champi- onship run and practice was less than two hours away.
That run ended with Oak Mountain claiming a third consecutive state cham- pionship after the game against Davidson ended in a 2-1 victory decid- ed by penalty kicks.
DeMasters said that game was one of the top three nail-biting moments in his coaching career.
He wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure late in that game. Julie Holstad had to force herself to watch her young- est son’s penalty kick.
“Usually I just kind of laugh and go, ‘OK, I’m not watching. Just tell me, just tell me.’ But no, I watched so it was good,” Julie Holstad said.
A Stud in the Making
DeMasters said the lengthy game against an opponent as skilled as Davidson provided Clay Holstad with plenty of chances to impress. In fact, the coach said Clay Holstad’s impact on the championship game far exceeded the penalty kick he sent to the back of the net.
The longer the game went on, the more DeMasters wanted the ball at the feet of the most intelligent soccer player he’s gotten to know since moving to Alabama.
“Clay in the championship game was a stud,” DeMasters said. “When Clay has his legs like he did Saturday and he got the ball at his feet, he kind of slowed the game down for us. (He) made good decisions, distributed the ball well and that’s kind of what he did to affect the game.”
The state title was the second one Clay Holstad contributed to, matching the number his brother had under his belt with the Eagles when he graduated a little more than a year ago. The younger of the Holstad brothers said his own selection for the North-South team meant more to him because he and his brother had that distinction in common.
His mother and his coach believe Clay Holstad is following in his broth- er’s footsteps, a path that could lead to a senior season filled with accolades at the local and state level. However, the two also point out that the younger Holstad has already begun to step out of Hunter Holstad’s shadow in some important ways.
The finesse Clay Holstad demon- strated at times during the champion- ship is one area where he sets himself apart. His older brother grew up fast and was able to leverage his size and strength into a successful career. Clay Holstad wasn’t so lucky. He tended to be one of the smaller players in any game; relying on raw athleticism was out of the question.
“He had to be very technical in his play, which I think benefited him,” Julie Holstad said. “If you mature early you don’t have to be as technical because you can get away with more physically, athletically, but he couldn’t. So I think (in) hindsight, it has actually made him a better soccer player.”
DeMasters agreed with the assess- ment. But now the younger Holstad, with the help of a late growth spurt, is rapidly catching up. With Clay Holstad having technique and size, DeMasters said he can’t wait to see what his new team captain is capable of at the end of the offseason.
If Clay Holstad can master a more physical style of play, then he could become the not-so-secret weapon behind Oak Mountain’s next push for a championship.
“We can’t really compare ourselves to other years, but we’re going to try to first win out at home, then win area, then hopefully we can win the big thing all over again,” Clay Holstad said.
Intense. That’s the word Clay Holstad uses more than any other to describe the head coach responsible for Oak Mountain’s recent dominance in soccer. He said DeMasters does a good job of projecting calm when he needs to, and he is supportive of his team. But his players know him too well at this point.
Clay Holstad said DeMasters seems calm during the big games. “But at the same time, you know that you look at him and in the back of his mind he’s nervous. He wants it as bad as we do,” Clay Holstad said.
During All-Star week, the rest of the North team will get the chance to witness that intensity first hand. DeMasters said his only practice for the game will take place on the day before, but he still hopes he is able to teach the kids something that will help them later in life.
DeMasters said he gets an “exciting nervous” feeling when he thinks about coaching the North team. “I tell everyone that coaches or plays, ‘If you ever lose the butterflies in your stomach, (it’s) probably about that time to hang up the boots and stop coaching or playing,’” he said.
Even if there’s not time to teach, DeMasters said he would be happy just getting to know the kids on his team, some of whom he’s coached against in recent seasons.
As a competitor, he plans on leaving the field with a 1-0 record as an All-Star coach. But if he represents Oak Mountain well and has some fun in the process, then he’ll find joy regardless of the outcome, he said, especially, since he’ll have the chance to watch his player be honored as one of the best rising seniors in the state.
“You don’t get many chances, maybe once in your career, to coach an All-Star game event, so if it’s with Clay, I’m happy it’s with him,” DeMasters said.