Freshman TE Holtz makes mark at Pitt

Redshirt season not in offing for former Shaler High star


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J.P. Holtz said he had no expectations upon arriving at Pitt for his first college training camp. A 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end, Holtz said all he wanted to do was work hard.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told a slightly different story. Rudolph said Holtz was in the coaching staff's ear throughout camp, letting them know he was capable of playing as a freshman.

After three weeks of watching Holtz thrive in practice with older, more seasoned players, Rudolph and coach Paul Chryst agreed with the Shaler High School graduate. So, Holtz will be one of a handful of freshmen to see playing time this season.

"I love his attitude," Rudolph said. "He doesn't flinch for one second about being in there and being in the huddle with the first group. Anything he is asked to do he is good with it. He tells you day in and day out that he's ready for this.

"Now, there's a lot of stuff to clean up and a lot of stuff to get better at and to work on, but he's got an approach that he'll get there."

Holtz has been impressive since preseason practice began. He has proven to be physical enough to block in a pro-style offense and, at 6-4, he is a big target in the passing game.

Rudolph has not been shy about using Holtz in some packages with the first-team offense. Senior Hubie Graham is slated to be the starter, but Rudolph will use some two-tight end sets. And should Graham be injured, Holtz might be better suited to step in as the starter than sophomore Drew Carswell, who is 6-4, 220.

"I didn't expect to come in and get reps," Holtz said. "I just came in to work and try to help the team out in whatever I can. If it's one rep a game, it's one a rep a game. That's fine with me."

The coaches likely have bigger plans after deciding not to redshirt him.

Holtz was one of the highest-rated players in Chryst's first recruiting class. He was one of the top 10 tight ends in the nation coming out of Shaler and originally committed to Penn State before changing his mind after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal broke.

But being a highly ranked recruit does not guarantee playing time as a freshman.

Pitt has several other highly touted players who might redshirt. Running back Rushel Shell from Hopewell was one of the top-rated backs in the nation, but there are several veterans ahead of him. Chad Voytik was one of the top-rated quarterbacks as a high school senior, and, although he has been impressive the past week and risen to No. 2 on the depth chart, it has not been determined whether he will play or be redshirted.

"There are plusses and minuses," Rudolph said of being a five-star recruit as Holtz was. "Some guys come in with no pressure at all, and they just play. And the rankings, as much as they probably appreciate them in high school, sometimes can add pressure that some don't need to have.

"When they come [into college], it's an even playing field. I've seen development from guys you don't expect and other guys it takes a few years. You never know."

Chryst said earlier that two of the factors in determining whether a freshman will play or not are the player's mental and emotional approach. Holtz has been nearly as impressive in the football classroom as he has been in practice.

"I put a lot of work in for it," Holtz said. "It's a lot of the mental aspect more than the football aspect. I know how to play football. That playbook is thick. There are a lot of plays."

NOTE -- Former Brashear standout Manasseh Garner is transferring from Wisconsin to Pitt. A 6-foot-2, 214-pound wide receiver, Garner will sit out this season and have two seasons of eligibility remaining. Garner played in 20 games for Wisconsin the past two seasons and played under Chryst and Rudolph while with the Badgers.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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