Early Monday morning, Jackson Hohlt will be permitted less than two minutes to say goodbye to the people who mean the most to him.
That would be his immediate family. There are six altogether.
Nothing in Hohlt’s 19 years prepared him for the emotions he’ll experience going through the 90-second goodbye, one of the longstanding traditions at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
“I haven’t really rehearsed anything,” said Hohlt, a Center Grove High School graduate who starred for the Trojans’ football and boys track and field teams while also excelling academically with a 4.0 grade-point average.
“I’m going to try to spend time with all of them, kind of speak to them collectively and tell them how much I love them,” Hohlt said. “It’s honestly more for them than it is for me to say goodbye.
“I’ll be on my own, but they’ll be the ones worrying about me back at home.”
And the ones still wiping tears from reddened eyes upon exiting the West Point campus, which is located 50 miles north of New York City.
Jackson Hohlt received his appointment to West Point over the winter, which has given the family sufficient time to brace for one of life’s seminal moments.
Hohlt will continue his track career at West Point.
“It felt right military-wise around my junior year. Then at about Christmastime this past year after football season is when I went on my visit to West Point,” Hohlt said.
“That visit was definitely a defining moment.”
Strong brotherly bonds
Aaron and Jennifer Hohlt’s five sons are separated by seven years, seven months and little else.All are athletes, good students and each others’ most-trusted confidants.
Now as the oldest Jackson, who this past school year rushed for more than 1,000 yards for a state football champion and anchored the state-title winning 1,600-meter relay team in track, is leaving to enter a new phase of his life.
“As a parent you hope you’ve prepared them to take on the next chapter in their life,” Aaron said. “Over the years people have told me how difficult it is to drop your kid off at college. It’s a Catch-22. It’s one of the best days, but it’s also one of the worst days.
“I think all his brothers will be affected. But I think Eli (who at 11 is the youngest sibling) … he and Jackson have a pretty special bond.”
All four brothers look up to Jackson. Each has his own unique relationship with him.
Trevor Hohlt, a Center Grove senior who is 14 months younger than Jackson, benefited from being one of Jackson’s teammates the past couple years in football and track.
Ever since they were small children, the relationship has been about support for one another.
“I look up to Jackson because he does everything before I do it,” Trevor said. “He gives me advice on what I could do better because he’s been through it before. He’s been by my side nonstop.
“The thing I love about him most is his will to win and compete. If it’s a game of pingpong or anything else, he wants to win.”
Trevor insists his older sibling is now probably the third-best pingpong player among the five Hohlt brothers. Trevor would be No. 1 followed by Sam, who’ll be a sophomore this school year.
Ty and Eli Hohlt, ages 14 and 11, respectively, have yet to catch up in pingpong skills.
It might not be pretty if they do.
Prepared to attend West Point
Much as it will hurt squeezing six goodbyes into 90 seconds on that Monday morning, Jackson Hohlt can’t wait for the challenges ahead.In total, he’ll be allotted two phone calls home during six weeks of basic training. However, once through with basic, Hohlt will be much more available to loved ones through calls, text messaging and FaceTiming.
“I’m happy to go there, for sure. With college you’re going to go away regardless, so I kind of look at it in that aspect,” said Hohlt, who referred to classmates Jovan Swann (Stanford University) and Cameron Tidd (Vanderbilt University) having previously left to join their new football teammates.
“I’m going to try and treat it like it’s similar.”
Like his friend, Alex Auckerman, a junior defensive back for the Army football program, Hohlt benefits from years of being challenged physically and scholastically as a student-athlete at Center Grove High School.
Hohlt’s dedication paid dividends in the form of 1,371 career rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in football. Eariler this month, he placed fourth in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles at the IHSAA State Track and Field Meet.
He’ll likely run the 400 hurdles at Army, though nothing is certain at this point.
“It’s definitely the hard work (at Center Grove). The coaches push you. They don’t baby you, and that’s definitely going to help me,” Hohlt said. “I’m not going to shy away from any of the yelling, that’s for sure. I’m going to be somewhat used to that.
“It’s not going to faze me. That’s part of coaching that people don’t realize. If coaches aren’t tough on you, it’s not a good thing. I think that prepared me.”
Long before Jackson had his driver’s license, Aaron and Jennifer would shuttle him to and from one practice to the next when he first became interested in competitive athletics.
Good practice for the years ahead.
Saying goodbye to the two persons who have invested more time and caring into Jackson’s development as a young man might be Hohlt’s biggest challenge.
“My mom and dad are both very emotional people, so I’m guessing those will be two of the hardest,” Hohlt said. “I’ve been with them the longest, and they’ve always supported me through everything.
“They’ve always been there for me. They’ve always taken care of me. Saying goodbye after 19 years is going to be rough.”
THE HOHLT FILE
Name: Jackson Hohlt
Family: Parents, Aaron and Jennifer; brothers, Trevor, 17, Sam, 15, Ty, 14, and Eli, 11
Favorite TV show: “Survivor”
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite movie: “Lone Survivor”
Favorite athlete: Usain Bolt
Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts