Nathaniel Holcomb returned to Puyallup over the summer after finishing his freshman year at College of Idaho, where he is a quarterback on the football team.
While he was home, he challenged younger brothers Jacob and Luke, both quarterbacks at Puyallup High School, to a throwing competition in the backyard.
“Jacob said he was the most accurate QB,” Nathaniel said. “I was looking around the backyard, found this fence post, jammed it into the ground and said, ‘I can hit this before you.’ ”
The game turned into a best-of-five contest. Jacob won, and his older brother wasn’t all that surprised.
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“He always finds a way to win,” Nathaniel said.
Jacob, a senior and second-year starter for the sixth-ranked Vikings, has always had a knack for winning. Growing up, Nathaniel said Jacob won at whatever he tried.
That has carried into high school football. Last season, Jacob led the Vikings to an undefeated 4A SPSL title few expected them to win in his first year as a starter, and helped lift Puyallup to its first state-playoff appearance since 2006.
“Jacob is a winner,” Puyallup coach Gary Jeffers said. “He’s always been a winner. He’s a winner at everything he does. He’s a winner for us. He makes winners out of people that are around him. Those are the intrinsic characteristics you can’t coach a kid on. They either have them or they don’t.”
Jacob has continued his winning ways this season, pacing Puyallup (3-0) on offense with 920 passing yards and nine touchdowns on 56 of 82 passing. A “true dual-threat” quarterback, his coach says, Jacob has added another 263 yards and four scores on 54 carries.
This a year after he earned first-team 4A SPSL honors, finishing with 2,376 yards of offense.
But he doesn’t think too much about the numbers.
“The one thing about me is all I want to do is win,” Jacob said. “No matter what my completion percentage is, how many touchdowns I throw, how many yards I throw for, if the team wins, I’m happy.
“Football is a team sport, and our team is a brotherhood. We’re all family here. We can’t do it without each other.”
He’s like Nathaniel in that way. The oldest Holcomb brother had the same mindset when he was at Puyallup, and kept it when he joined the Yotes.
He said his second goal is to become an NAIA All-American. His first goal is to help turn C of I — which reinstated football in 2014 after 34 years without the sport — into a winning program.
“I think being humble comes with being a team player. My mom and dad taught us that growing up,” said Nathaniel, who is splitting time at quarterback this season at C of I after redshirting his first year.
“I think that kind of evolved into just wanting to win. Some people want stats. People who want to win are team players. Being humble is a trait of winning.”
Nathaniel, Jacob and Luke are focused on winning, he says. Stats are fun, but just as bragging rights between brothers.
Nathaniel broke the state record for single-game passing touchdowns (10) as a senior in 2016, and still shares that record with Kennedy Catholic’s Sam Huard.
He also holds 4A SPSL records — which date back to 1975 — for passing yards in a season (3,408) and total yards of offense in a season (3,588), both set in 2016. He is second on the league’s all-time list for completions in a season (225).
Nathaniel knows Jacob and Luke — a sophomore who will compete for the starting job at Puyallup after Jacob graduates — have the ability to chase down those records, but he’s happy to have the bragging rights over the other two for now.
“Growing up (as one of) three brothers, I’d say it enhances your competitiveness because you’re surrounded by teammates your whole life,” Nathaniel said. “Everything is kind of a competition.”
But a good one, and one that has created a learning environment. Nathaniel started for three years at Puyallup, and Jacob became his backup when he started high school.
“It was really cool because I got to learn from him,” Jacob said. “I think he’s the one that really helped me become so mature as a quarterback.
“Last year, he’d always call me and give me tips on what to do, what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. He’s always been so supportive of me, and I can’t be more thankful for him.”
The family went to watch Nathaniel — who has compiled 381 yards and three touchdowns on 33 of 65 passing in three games for the Yotes — play against Portland State last weekend.
Jacob appreciates what he can learn from his older brother — whether that means watching film together or working on throwing motion — and wants to, in turn, set an example for Luke as he climbs the ranks in Puyallup’s program.
“It’s fun to watch them come in young, and watch them grown and mature with the help of their brother and the help of the program,” Jeffers said. “I think we’re all excited for what the future holds for Luke, but we are so blessed to have Jacob right now.
“He’s the man that’s pulling the strings for us, and he is everything I could ask for in a quarterback. He’s a great leader. I tell people all the time, when your best player is also your best guy, you have something special.”
Jacob takes pride in being a quarterback at Puyallup, which has produced so many successful players at the position over the years — including another trio of brothers whose last name starts with ‘H’ in Damon, Brock and Luke Huard.
But, what means more to Jacob than the stature is the leadership opportunity the position creates, and how he can lift up his teammates. He’s quick to say his offensive line is the key to his success.
“No quarterback is a good quarterback without their linemen,” he said. “They’re the protection. They do everything for you. They’re the ones that get all dirty and bloody and nasty for you.”
He talks about the Viking’s defense, which has allowed just three first-half touchdowns this season.
And he’s excited to find out how far into the postseason Puyallup can play as a collective unit.
“I’ve thought about our team goals,” Jacob said. “To win the league championship, to make it to state, and win a state championship. That’s the main goal on my mind right now.”
His coach and older brother agree — Jacob is a quarterback who could lead the Vikings there.
“You see the results,” Nathaniel said. “Undefeated in league last year. Since the end of last football season, Jacob’s told me, ‘I’m going to win the state championship, Nathaniel.’
“The first thing you have to do (to have) a state-championship team is get the team on board, and that’s what Jacob does really well.”