By Jim Irish
Photos by Jim Irish
Tiki Hola didn’t match the physical characteristics of most freshmen when he appeared for football tryouts in 2022.
Only 14 years old, Hola stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 270 pounds. His wingspan was a jaw-dropping 6-foot-9 inches. He was also athletic for his huge physical dimensions.
Bastrop coaches made the correct call in bypassing freshman and junior varsity and inserting him at defensive tackle on the varsity squad.
Hola, whose first name is Lisiate but goes by his middle name Tiki, started all 10 games. He more than held his own considering his youth and lack of varsity experience. Opposing coaches marked him for double coverage.
“I was impressed how physical he was,” Bastrop head coach Jake Griedl says. “He demanded teams to prepare for him.”
Hola also possessed the “mental capacity to learn a varsity defense and go out there and perform at a high level,” Griedl says.
Griedl points out that defensive tackle in a three-down system is hard because you’re always going to be double-teamed. “In that position, what we’re looking for is someone that’s going to do their job and demand a double team,” Griedl says. “If they’re double teaming you, now your linebackers can come up free and make plays. “The nose in a three-down line has to be a team-first guy. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing your job. You’re gonna end up making plays when you’re a good player like he is.”
In a four-point stance, Hola lines up opposite the center, whom he collides with first. After that, a guard moves into range requiring a second collision. It's the nature of the beast.
This summer, Hola attended summer football camps at the University of Texas, Georgia, and Houston. Coaches were almost awestruck at his size for a rising sophomore and his play on film.
Power Five universities — Texas, Georgia, Texas Tech, Tennessee, and Houston — offered scholarships this summer. Also offering scholarships were UTSA and Texas State.
"I was really overwhelmed. It took a minute for that to sink in because I was just a normal kid in Bastrop."
-- Tiki Hola describing his reaction to major college scholarship offers
This was an intoxicating experience for a novice such as Tola.
“I was really overwhelmed,” says, who has shoulder length hair. “It took a minute for that to sink in because I was just a normal kid in Bastrop. Not many people in Bastrop get these offers.”
Hola is blessed with caring parents whose roots are in the South Pacific island of Tonga. To most people’s surprise, his father and mother stand only 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-6, respectively. He has a 6-foot older sister, Kayla, who played basketball at Bastrop and is currently playing for Division III North Central University in Minneapolis, Minn.
Since NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from contacting recruits until June 15 of their sophomore season, they made the offers through the Bastrop coaching staff.
“I can’t really think about it right now,” Hola says about the multiple offers. “I’m just trying to start the season.”
Griedl and his staff have experience with the recruitment of high school athletes.
“We’ve already met with (Hola) and his family and started talking through the process of what this is gonna look like…,” he says. “Later on in his high school career, he’ll have to start making decisions on name, image, likeness (NIL) deals. It’s a lot to put on a high school kid.”
The expectations from Bastrop coaches and coaches are high.
“He understands that he needs to play as his (press) states,” Griedl says. “He’s getting a lot of publicity. He needs to go out and play like the recruit they’re saying he is. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform, but he works to be better.”
Griedl has no doubt that Hola, now 15, will handle the pressure.
"He's probably the most level headed player we have."
-- Bastrop head coach Jake Griedl discussing Hola
“He’s probably the most level-headed player we have,” he says. “He’s comfortable, collected. He’s super appreciative and humble. We’re really excited about his future.” Griedl says Hola is a stronger, leaner, and more flexible version of himself. Hola has improved his bench press from 205 pounds as a freshman to 285. Griedl looks for improvement from Hola on the “minute details” of the position, “splitting double teams, hand placement, having a quicker ball get off. That’s where his focus has been on top of (gaining) strength. He’s understanding the game more.” Griedl predicts Hola “will be quite the buzz in Central Texas.” The Austin-American Statesman recently selected Hola as one of the top 100 players in Central Texas If Hola performs as expected, he might earn the moniker Tiki the Terror.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer in Bastrop, Texas