Another notch in the pipeline

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The sweat dripped from Corey Hoelck’s face after finishing another mind-boggling weight set. He was, for the day, back home in Giltner’s upper mezzanine workout area where he’d spent hours upon hours in high school.
The redshirt UNK junior offensive lineman took a jab at current Giltner football coach Chip Bartos, asking where the air conditioning was, sly smile on his face.
Corey’s sister, Cortney, approaching her senior season as a Hornet, chirped right back and said, “he likes to sweat.”
He likes to lift weights, too.
That workout Aug. 7 was Corey’s final one before reporting for fall camp the next day to start his fourth college football season. While some things have stayed the same, others, like his imposing stature, have not.
When Corey left high school and began his college football career, he weighed 260 pounds and hadn’t played 11-man football.
Set to begin a fourth season at UNK, the former Hornet now tips the scale at 305 pounds and in his estimation is in the best shape he’s ever been.
“It’s a really comfortable weight for me,” Hoelck said.
As for how fast he put it on, his true freshman year was a blossom from 260 to upwards of 280. After that, he noted it was a 10-15 pound gain in years two and three.
Although it was a big adjustment for Corey going from the 8-man to 11-man ball, he made leaps and strides of improvement. In fact, he saw his first game action as a redshirt freshman.
“I had a lot of nerves. Everyone is bigger, faster and stronger at this level. I was just a puny little freshman and I didn’t think I was ready to play. I was put in that situation, but it was really exciting, too.”
Puny, huh? Sure...
While he may not have thought he was ready for college football, he was ready to enjoy the game from the field again.
“When you redshirt, you just sit out for a year after playing four years of high school,” Corey said. “You get bored and miss football in a way. It’s exciting to get out there after all the work you put in.”
Corey started six games at right tackle for the Lopers during the 2018 season and positioned himself solidly in the No. 1 offensive line group after starting 10 games during his redshirt freshman campaign. However, that came to a crashing halt.
A season-ending injury came in the second half of a game that, coincidentally, the Lopers were winning big. Corey was on a downfield block with a linebacker when the running back burst through the hole. At that time, an outside linebacker went for a diving stop and came down on his left leg.
“It was an ankle sprain at first. I tore the deltoid ligament in my ankle and the force from that went up through my ankle brace and broke my fibula,” Hoelck explained.
The injury was just another hiccup in what was a roller coaster ride in his personal life. As Corey dealt with his injuries, his mother, Carmen, faced her own battles.
“That was a tough time for me because my mom was battling breast cancer at that time,” Hoelck said. “The way to get that out of my head was to play football. When football was taken away, it made for a tough time.”
The injury made it tough for the current Loper to workout and keep himself in shape, but he put the work in where he could. The toughest moments for him came on those final few Saturdays of the 2018 season as he had to watch UNK’s games from the sideline.
“It sucks to watch your teammates play without you. It’s tough to work that long and one play, it’s over,” he said. “The injury was a blessing because I have a new respect for football and a new work ethic. I know that my football career can come to an end at any time and I might as well cherish it.”
It was a slow recovery process for Corey. He participated in spring ball, but didn’t feel like he was at 100 percent. In fact, it wasn’t until earlier this summer that he began to regain his fullconfidence. Now, he’s ready to go.
If the intensity Corey showed in that final workout at Giltner last week was any indication, he’s not fibbing.
The fluidity with which he sprung from one lift to another was fascinating. There was little wasted motion. As soon as he finished one lift, he was right on to the next one, without so much as two seconds to catch his breath. This went on for a couple sets before he’d take a 30-second breather to take a brotherly jab at his sister, who joined his workout.
The weights -- oh my, the weights. Seventy-five pound dumbells here, multiple 45-pound plates there. While it may have looked like an intense workout to some, for the guy that was raised on hard work in the weight room, it was just a chill session.
All this work put in through the offseason to rebuild a culture and get back to a feeling Corey had during his high school days -- winning.
“When you go from a program like Giltner and you win a lot of games to a program where, I knew UNK wasn’t the top-tiered team at the time, you don’t realize how hard it is to go from winning to losing,” Hoelck explained. “It’s tough. We’re at a breaking point now where we can make the playoffs or a bowl game and compete in our conference. We won one game my freshman year and we’ve put in the work.”
UNK opens the 2019 football season on the road at Missouri Southern State Sept. 5. Until then, Corey will continue to spend his time pumping the iron and adding to the legacy pipeline to come out of Giltner High.
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at sports@hamilton.net.

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