Jacob Hollister spent the first five games of the 2019 season on the Seahawks' practice squad. He finished Sunday's game against Tampa Bay underneath a pile of teammates who were celebrating his game-winning catch in overtime.
A few moments later, Hollister was being carried off the field on the shoulders of teammates after a performance that included the first two touchdown catches of his career, quite a change from spending more than a month's worth of gamedays as a spectator on the sidelines.
"Jake had an extraordinary day," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said… "He had a fantastic day for us."
Hollister's breakout game was particularly enjoyable for the Bend, Oregon native because it came with some family members and friends in the stands.
"It's awesome," he said. "It's such a blessing to be in this position. I love being on this team, being around these guys, being around this organization. It's just been awesome and it's all been a blessing. I'm back on the West Coast—I'm from Oregon originally—my sister was up for this game and I had some friends who were up for this game and it's awesome."
Will Dissly's season-ending Achilles injury has left the Seahawks with only two tight ends, plus tackle George Fant, for the past three games, and when Luke Willson left Sunday's game with a rib injury—he would eventually return—Hollister suddenly found himself thrust into a major role. And the former undrafted free agent out of Wyoming responded in a big way, catching four passes for 37-yards and two touchdowns. In addition to those two scores, another of his catches went for 22 yards to the 1-yard line, setting up a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett, and he also beat a linebacker in coverage deep to draw a 39-yard pass interference call in the end zone, setting up his first touchdown catch.
"Jake had a good game today, golly," Carroll said Sunday. "Luke got banged up a little bit, (Hollister) had to play quite a bit more. He came through. Two big touchdown passes, of course, he gets the game winner, kind of a walk-off, you know? I'm really proud of him, he's a good ball player, and he's doing a really nice job for us across the board. Obviously, you can see him run and catch. He's also working hard on his blocking, and he's a very good special teams player, too. We hoped he would be able to be a factor like this, and he's coming through."
As the Seahawks lined up for what would be the game-winning play, Hollister was only thinking about beating his man on a crossing route and not about the significance of that play, but after the fact, as he found himself under a pile of players for the first time since Wyoming's 2016 overtime win over Northern Illinois (which strangely enough also had a 40-34 final score), Hollister then allowed himself to enjoy what he had just accomplished.
"When everyone's piling on you, you realize it's the game-winner," he said. "But at the time you're just thinking it's another play."
The Seahawks added Hollister in a trade with New England during the offseason and he showed potential as a pass-catcher during training camp, but when it came time to set the 53-man roster, the Seahawks couldn't find room for him, so he was instead waived and re-signed to the practice squad.
Carroll has always maintained that practice squad members are important members of the team, to the point that they even travel to road games to get used to that experience should they be needed later in the season. And past Seahawks teams are full of practice squad success stories, including eventual starters like Jermaine Kearse, DeShawn Shead, and current center Joey Hunt, to special teams standouts like Ricardo Lockette, to postseason standouts like Chris Matthews. So a performance like Hollister's isn't big just for his own career prospects, but also for the message it can send to other practice squad players.
"You saw the way the guys responded to him with the winning play of the game, I thought that was really cool," Carroll said. "It is important because there are 10 guys on the practice squad that are playing right shoulder to shoulder with the guys that are playing. They don't get the rewards, they don't get what they want. They have to just keep plugging, keep battling. So when one of those guys get the chance to step up and then they come through and then they do something really well, it's a great message for those guys to keep on believing and keeping the hope alive. There's never been a day where Jake hasn't been a good worker. There's never been a day when he wasn't busting his butt to do whatever we needed him to do. Whether he was on service team, whether he was on special teams, or servicing for the special teams. He's just given you everything he's got every single day. So that's clear. Guys know that, and they can tell. So when he gets the chance, you're rooting for him, and that's exactly what happened. It's not unlike Joey (Hunt), Joey has busted his butt for so long around here. When he got his chance, guys were really fired up about it, that he got this done, and that he contributed to a win, and helped us, and played well, and all that. It's just rooting for your guys, they're all connected. Whether they're on practice squad or not, it's a good symbol of accomplishment and all that."
Game action photos from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 9 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.