July 11, 2013
In the current state of collegiate football, it's uncommon for true freshmen to see much playing time, if any at all. For example, the 2013 Pitt football roster has just two true seniors in Aaron Donald and K'Waun Williams. But barring injury, sophomore J.P. Holtz is on pace to be a four-year starter without using a redshirt. Coming off his first season as a Panther which saw him grab 13 catches for 173 yards and three TDs, his familiarity with the offense has the Pittsburgh native poised for an impact season in year two.
"I wanted to play right away, but I wasn't expecting to play a lot," Holtz said. "I knew we didn't have much depth at the tight end position, but I didn't know I would even start a game, let alone to play in all 13. I was lucky enough to have that happen."
But to his teammates, they knew that the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Holtz was mature beyond his eligibility status. "Right from the get-go, he had a really strong work ethic," redshirt junior fullback Mark Giubilato said. "We could all see how physically strong he was. Not many freshmen come in with the size he has."
Holtz seized the starting role against Virginia Tech and ultimately logged 10 total starting assignments on the season.
If history is any indication, Holtz will have his opportunity to thrive in the Paul Chryst offense. When Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, he utilized his tight ends often. From 2006-11, a Badger tight end was in the top three on the team in receptions every season, and four of those six years they led Wisconsin in receiving (Travis Beckum in 2006-07, Garrett Graham in 2008 and Lance Kendricks in 2010).
"It's a great offense that Coach Chryst runs," Holtz said. "I think he relies on the tight ends a lot. I know that with me, Manasseh [Garner], and Scotty [Orndoff], we have a great group. There is a lot of bulk and we can help the offense out. I hope I am one of the great tight ends at Pitt, but I have a lot more work to do."
To be a great tight end, Holtz knows he will have to be well-rounded, which is why he has been focusing on blocking this offseason.
"I really wasn't familiar with blocking and with putting my hand on the ground last year. That was definitely new to me," Holtz admitted. "But I see myself doing much better this season. I just want to help my team any way possible. I want the running backs to know that they can run to my side."
Holtz had to learn on the fly last season, but with another year under his belt his upside is sky-high.
"J.P. has gotten better and better at blocking and he will keep progressing because of the work ethic he has," Giubilato said. "He has gotten to the point where he knows what to look for now. We will be watching film and he's pointing out `Get your head across here, get your hands inside, lift through.' These were all things I would've had to tell him last year, but he's able to tell me now because he understands it. It's pretty awesome."
Holtz and the Panthers open the season against defending Orange Bowl champion Florida State in their inaugural game in the ACC on Sept. 2 at Heinz Field. On a national stage, Holtz has the opportunity to introduce himself to the country as a premier tight end.
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