Kohl Herbolsheimer is a rarity. As a freshman in 2016, he started on the varsity football team at Millard South High School.
It happens, from time to time, that a ninth-grade student has the skills and ability and maturity necessary to compete against varsity competition. It’s rare in Class A in Nebraska, but it does happen. Moses Bryant, the state’s all time leader in touchdowns scored, comes to mind. But Bryant spent his career at Elkhorn South playing in Class B. The examples are hard to come by.
It had never happened before at Millard South. Herbolsheimer was the first ever freshman, in the school’s 48-year history, to start for the Patriots. “They’re not physically ready,” said head football coach Andy Means. “Even sophomores, it’s hard to play in Class A football.”
It makes the Herbolsheimer story that much more interesting. Even his coach, the man who made the decision, doesn’t believe that players his age are ready to do what Herbolsheimer has done. But, according to Means, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made. Herbolsheimer was simply the best player at his position, even as a freshman.
Now a junior, he’s grown into one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the state. At 6’2″, 270 pounds, Herbolsheimer is a problem, particularly for opposing offensive linemen. He plays with tenacity and a desire to find the ball. His highlight film makes frequent use of his propensity for second-effort playmaking. “He just allows us to do so many things,” Means said. “He can play end, he can play inside. He gives us a lot of flexibility there.”
Herbolsheimer’s growth has spelled success for a Millard South program that had dropped from its once lofty heights. Millard South appeared in back to back state championship games in 2009 and 2010, winning the first. Just three years later, the Patriots finished 3-6. In Herbolsheimer’s freshman season of 2016, the program looked to have hit bottom.
Millard South defeated Bellevue West 39-36 for their only win of the season. It was homecoming. Herbolsheimer describes the feeling as “exciting, but not really at the same time.”
The pain of losing didn’t sit well. “After our season ended against Millard North, there was 56 guys in the weight room on Monday just getting ready to go back at it,” Herbolsheimer said.
After a 6-5 record in 2017, the 2018 Patriots are 4-1 and creating a buzz. Means appreciates Herbolsheimer’s role in the turnaround. “He works hard. He’s a model to the other players,” Means said. “He’s becoming more of a leader.”
It’s MORE than a Game! Kohl played his tail off all night on both sides of the 🏈. He is totally exhausted but he still makes time 4 a young Patriot fan after the game! Kohl Herbolsheimer is a special kid!#PatriotProud #Iwant2bKohl #YoungEyesAreAlwaysWatching #TPW @MSouthFootball pic.twitter.com/up0zYCNe9b
— MSHS Activities (@MSHSactivities) September 15, 2018
It’s a far cry from the 200-pound freshman defensive end that Herbolsheimer remembers himself being.
“My first play, I just got destroyed,” Herbolsheimer said. “I was so nervous, I was sweating. It was ridiculous.”
He says he can remember that first game well, running all the way across the field for goal-line defense. He had no idea what to expect, and only a little more of an idea about what to do. That’s no longer the case. Means says Herbolsheimer has figured it out and the tape doesn’t lie.
His disruptive play has garnered interest from several power five schools, including Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Mississippi State. He holds an offer from South Dakota, but is counting on his performance to gain more high-profile opportunities.
“What I need to work on is getting more explosive, up and down, side to side,” Herbolsheimer said. “My goal, for me, is to go to a top-25 team.”
With a year to go in an already impressive high school career, Kohl Herbolsheimer is certainly one to watch for the class of 2020.