Washington's Hollerway focusing on playing college football

Posted: November 27, 2013

RON COHEN'S office at George Washington High resembles more of a football museum than it does a work station. Sure, there is a desk with a computer, but the eye immediately heads to its shelves, chockablock with memorabilia from this and that.

Game balls encased in glass, game films stacked like dominos, game-worn jerseys, signed and framed with nowhere to hang, so they just sit proudly on display near the door.

Ironically, sandwiched between times-gone-by, sat senior Zaire Hollerway, a 6-1, 280-pound offensive/defensive lineman whose football career growing up was nearly history.

"I feel like I'm focused," Hollerway said. "I have a goal to achieve. I have something that I'm striving for and I'm chasing. And I look back at the stuff I went through growing up, and I just look at it as motivation."

His voice trailed off as his eyes slowly panned right, almost as if he was back at Samuel W. Pennypacker Elementary School reliving catcalls of "Chubby" or jokes about his wardrobe from classmates.

Dealing with pressure and weight issues forced him from the game, but Hollerway emerged as a 3-year starter after returning as a freshman. Now considered one of the city's fiercest two-way linemen, Hollerway faces a different type of size battle if he wants to play in college.

One last high school game remains however, as Washington, the Public League AAAA runner-up, hosts Catholic League foe Archbishop Ryan on Thanksgiving morning (Ryan leads the series 26-9-1). The Turkey Bowl brawl is just one of the many matchups on the day.

At 5-5 overall (5-2 Pub), Washington is in danger of its first losing campaign under Cohen, who arrived in 1985 and built a perennial contender that also produced NFL talent.

In fact, as Hollerway spoke, behind him stood a large cutout of current Minnesota Viking and former-GW star Sharrif Floyd sitting next to a photo of current Baltimore Raven and former-GW star Jameel McClain.

"The tradition here," said Hollerway, who was wearing a black jacket with "Next D1 prospect" emblazoned on the front, "is go hard or go home."

At around 11 years old, he went home.

Faced with a fork in the road - play with older kids whose weight you match, but maturity you lack, or, run with plastic bags affixed to your body to make weight for kids your own age - Hollerway went straight. He quit football.

"I wasn't really mentally strong," he said. "I didn't know how to handle those situations mentally and emotionally. With that pressure being on me as a young kid, it kind of broke me a little bit.

"It was always that feeling where I felt like I was by myself. I felt like I didn't have anybody to go to and express my feelings and say, 'I'm being teased for how I dress or how fat I am compared to other kids.' "

Eventually Zaire's father, Nelson Hollerway, 41, with whom he lives on Mohican Street near the Cheltenham Mall, brought him to Cohen at Washington.

"Well, Coach Cohen has a legacy of coaching football in the inner city and had some guys that turned out as young men as well as good football players," Nelson said over the phone. The proud father also added that Zaire's mother, Dallys Norrwood, helped raise a strong son.

Zaire hit the weight room and saw significant time as a freshman. He also wears a championship ring from Washington's Pub-title team in 2011.

Floyd, a first-round pick out of Florida in 2013, was at this season's championship loss, 30-3, to Frankford.

For Hollerway, college suitors have been slim thus far, though he has received interest from Akron, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Monmouth.

However, Hollerway said because defensive linemen are appraised higher at 6-3 or 6-4, he has been somewhat overlooked. At 17, he says he maxed out at 360 pounds on the bench press and 460 on squats.

Cohen, who has laid eyes on plenty of players . . .

"What, are you saying I'm an old guy?!" Cohen quipped on the phone. "You're right, I am old."

Well, experienced. Anyway, Cohen believes Hollerway is athletic enough to play offense. He earned All-Pub accolades this year on the offensive line.

"I still think he could be an offensive center on a big-time level," Cohen said. "He's a very good blocker with good feet, and he's a tough, strong kid."

Sound OK, Zaire?

"Whatever a college coach sees that fits me best, I'm good to go with," he said.

The ultimate goal?

"Just to make it," he said. "To be able to have that day where I'm walking out of the tunnel in front of 30,000 fans and I look down at my jersey and know that I made it."

How about the doubters?

"That's also just something that I put in my fuel tank that I use to motivate me to go out and grind so that college coaches realize you don't always need height in defense to be powerful."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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