North Xtra: Versatility marked career of Titans' one-man gang
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John Paul Holtz -- Shaler Area's great ... punter?
Yes, Holtz -- better known as "J.P." to his Titans teammates and those who follow them -- filled punting duties for Shaler over the course of his high school athletic tenure.
While he was, by all indications, an excellent punter, those weren't necessarily the skills that earned him recognition as the Post-Gazette's North Xtra Male High School Athlete of the Year.
A standout for the Titans at a variety of football positions and as a post player in basketball, Holtz will soon embark on his freshman season as a tight end at Pitt.
"J.P. Holtz over the course of his career -- not just his senior year -- has been a mainstay for both the football and basketball programs," Shaler athletic director and head basketball coach Paul Holzshu said. "Both programs had a good amount of success during his time at Shaler Area, and he certainly was at the forefront of setting a standard. That, I think, deserves recognition."
Holtz began his varsity football career as a quarterback when he was a freshman in 2008. But Holtz, 6 feet 4, 230 pounds, had been a running back coming up through youth football and the middle school program.
During high school, Holtz lined up at those two positions, plus receiver, tight end, linebacker, defensive end and, of course, punter.
"I just did whatever the team needed me to do," Holtz said. "I really didn't care what position I was at -- I knew when I got to college that I was going to have one specific position, so I enjoyed moving around while I could, playing different positions I won't get to play in college."
At Pitt, Holtz figures to play tight end -- he was among the top recruits in the country at the position.
Holtz was rated the nation's No. 10 tight end by Scout.com and No. 10 among all prospects in Pennsylvania by the same scouting service.
As a senior, Holtz had 337 rushing yards on 72 carries, caught 19 passes for 332 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.
"At the next level, I can see him coming off the edge and causing some problems for offenses and making a defensive coordinator awfully excited," said Neil Gordon, who was Holtz's football coach at Shaler before resigning earlier this year.
Playing defense seems like a longshot at this point for Holtz, but he wouldn't be the first athletic player to switch sides of the ball over the course of his college career.
Versatility has long been a strength for Holtz, who also played baseball until he reached high school. Holzshu said Holtz was seen as one of the area's top basketball prospects as recently as when he was a freshman in high school.
"I think what happened was as he went through his career, it became obvious football was his dominant sport so he put more time in the weight room and more time into football in general and less time into basketball," Holzshu said. "Not that it showed that much.
"John was just an athlete, just a big kid with athleticism and ball skills, and he came in as a big contributor as a freshman, and for four years was pretty instrumental in what we accomplished."
During Holtz's past two seasons, Shaler went 47-6 overall, went a combined 22-2 in Section 3-AAAA games, winning the section title both seasons, and earned the WPIAL playoffs' No. 1 seed the past two seasons. The Titans made the playoffs Holtz's sophomore, junior and senior seasons and advanced to the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals this past season.
Shaler also did not have a losing season in football throughout Holtz's four seasons, advancing to the quarterfinals in 2008 and '09.
"It was definitely a really fun experience," Holtz said of his high school athletic career. "I played with a lot of great players, had a lot of great coaches. We played some real good competition in WPIAL Quad-A football in a tough conference, and the same with all four years of basketball, also.
"We didn't go as far as we wanted to in [the basketball playoffs], but we won a lot of games, and it was a great experience to play with all my friends from high school."
Holtz is already on campus at Pitt taking his first college classes and participating in his first workouts with his future teammates.
His high school career behind him, Holtz can add the North Xtra Athlete of the Year to his Fabulous 22 and all-section honors -- among others -- that he has earned in his career.
"I'm very happy for John, and very happy for Shaler Area athletics," Holzshu said. "I think it's a real feather in Shaler athletics' cap.
"I hope somewhere there's another John Holtz [walking around] the streets of Shaler. We could use him."
Thursday, July 12, 2012
First Published July 12, 2012 12:00 am