Three-year varsity player Heath Hutka and the Holland Hornets are on the road tonight for a clash against Mart.

HOLLAND — Heath Hutka has a lot on his plate. The senior tackle is a pillar for the Holland Hornets’ defense, entering his third varsity season with a plethora of experience that allows him to fill voids at different positions.

Away from football, he may be even busier.

For the last six years, Hutka has showed market goats, spending months raising the animals from birth until they are ready to be auctioned off at the Bell County Youth Fair Livestock Show and other shows around the state.

“We always wanted to show something livestock-wise,” said Hutka, who partners with his younger brother in tending to the goats. “We didn’t want to show a big animal like livestock or a pig. We tried goats and we made the sale, so we just kept doing it.

“We learned we were pretty good at it and had a lot of people give us knowledge about it. We just grew from that.”

From his time raising goats, Hutka has plenty of stories. Most of them are comical, like how one of the goats mimicked a dog in how it followed the boys around. Others draw less laughs, like when they realized the dangers of naming the goats.

“We learned pretty quickly that we probably shouldn’t name the goats,” Hutka said. “It was heartbreaking the first shows because you form a bond with this animal that you spend a lot of time with. Now, we just name them more to identify them like Spot and Tubby.”

A few goats received special treatment when it came to their names. One year, Hutka had an albino goat, which was ingeniously deemed Al for short.

And the goat that was more dog than farm animal?

“We thought he looked like a Jeffery,” Hutka said. “I don’t know, it’s funny.”

Hutka believes goat showing and football have more in common than people realize, and there may even be some symbolism in his own life. Like a newborn goat, Hutka joined Holland’s varsity team as a sophomore and has spent the past two years growing, getting stronger and improving as a player for this very season.

Now, it’s time for the payoff.

“A lot of us are really excited about this year because we feel like this is the year we’ve been waiting for,” Hutka said. “We’re ready to show what we can do and get the respect and recognition we deserve.”

Well, ready or not, Holland’s shot to prove itself arrives tonight at No. 1 Mart.

The Hornets travel to take on the two-time defending Class 2A Division II state champions in a game they hope is another foothold in the mountain they are trying to overcome. Holland has gone 20-5 over the last two seasons, but is still looking to silence the remaining non-believers.

“We prepare like we would any other team, but in the back of our head, we know this is a big opportunity to prove who Holland is,” Hutka said. “We’ve been stepping way up the ladder the past few years and I think this game could prove to all the people who still doubt us what we’re all about.”

After losing to the Panthers at home last year, Hutka was eager to see Mart listed on the schedule again this season, hoping to get one last crack at arguably the best program he’s played against.

“I knew this team — for how far we wanted to go — needed to play teams like Mart if we wanted to get as far as we wanted to go,” Hutka said. “I was ready once I saw it. I couldn’t wait to get the season started.”

Holland’s eighth-year head coach Brad Talbert raves of Hutka’s football IQ and said that “he’s the kind of player in 2A that I wish I had 15 of,” while pointing to Hutka’s versatility and intelligence as valuable assets for the Hornets.

“Heath is a smart player,” Talbert said. “I can put him at three different spots and he gets it. He’s a Heinz 57. He knows what I need and I wouldn’t want to go into tonight’s game without him.”