Shaler's Holtz makes a 'buddy' and major mark at Big 33 game
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Seneca Valley coach Don Holl thought he had finally seen the last of Shaler Area football star J.P. Holtz. This was after Holtz scored two touchdowns against Holl's team in a WPIAL Class AAAA Northern Seven Conference game last October.
Holl was wrong. But he couldn't have been happier.
Holtz, who will soon begin his college career at Pitt, took part in Saturday's Big 33 Classic in Hershey. Holtz, a tight end, caught a third-quarter touchdown pass for Pennsylvania, which lost to Ohio, 24-21, in overtime. Holl was the offensive coordinator for the Pennsylvania team.
"We had seen enough of him on the other side," Holl said. "Without a doubt, having him on our side was much better."
It was a busy week for Holtz, who, like the rest of players, spent the week in Hershey doing as much off the field as on it. Among the experiences was staying with a host family in the area, as well as being paired up with a "buddy."
The "Buddy Team" is a group of more than 200 kids with special needs who share time with a player, cheerleader or coach on and off the practice field throughout the week.
Holtz said the entire experience was something he won't soon forget.
"It was such a huge honor to play in such a great game," Holtz said. "The week was just a good week with my buddy and my host family."
Holtz made quite an impact on the field, one mirroring his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. He made an athletic catch for a 4-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left in the third quarter that gave Pennsylvania a 21-7 lead.
At Shaler, Holtz played everything from quarterback, running back, tight end and receiver on offense; linebacker and end on defense; and punter.
Holtz's remarkable blend of size and athleticism was on display throughout the week, according to Holl.
"He's physically gifted in the sense that he's one of those rare guys who can do a lot of different things," Holl said. "He's so big and strong that he wouldn't be an embarrassment if he were an offensive lineman. Guys that big who can run as well as he can are at such a premium."
While Holl was quite familiar with Holtz before the week, Hollidaysburg coach John Barton was not. Barton was one of the defensive assistants for Pennsylvania and was quick to praise Holtz.
"He's just such a big, athletic kid," Barton said. "He was a hard-working kid, really just a nice kid to be around. I didn't get to work with him personally, but I was around him enough to know he impressed me as a player and as a young man."
Holtz was one of three Pitt-bound players from the WPIAL participating in the game, the others being Hopewell running back Rushel Shell and Woodland Hills linebacker Mike Caprara.
Holtz is ready to start the next chapter of his career after going through a recruiting saga over the past year. Holtz had verbally committed to Penn State last summer, but changed his mind after the child sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky became public in November.
Holtz went on to sign with Pitt, choosing the Panthers over Michigan State. Holtz is expected to play tight end at Pitt.
As a senior at Shaler, Holtz was a Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 selection.
Holl said Pitt and new head coach Paul Chryst are getting an excellent addition.
"[They're getting] a big, strong, physical and athletic player," Holl said. "I think he has some good football IQ. [Former Shaler coach] Neil Gordon is a heck of a coach and did a great job with him.
"J.P. is a guy who understands the game and can be pretty versatile. I think he'll continue to do very well."
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am