As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer and closer, JP Holtz, senior tight end at Pitt and 2012 Shaler Area graduate, is one of the many hopefuls who is waiting to get his name called.
A talented center for the basketball team, Holtz helped lead Shaler to a regular season record of 20-2 his senior year, also earning a WPIAL AAAA Section 3 title and a PIAA Class AAAA playoff berth.
“When I was younger I always thought I was a basketball player, I just never grew taller,” laughed the 6 foot 3 inch tight end. “I definitely think that playing basketball in high school helped. It just showed my athletic ability and how I move around on the court translates to on the field.”
But his thoughts of basketball quickly changed to football when he immediately acquired massive amounts of success as soon as he stepped foot on a high school football field.
As four-year varsity letterman, Holtz was already receiving Division 1 offers in his junior year, and verbally committing to Penn State by the summer going into his senior year.
In his senior year, Holtz was one of the nation’s top tight end recruits, ranked at No. 10 by Scout Recruiting. His awards and accolades include Pennsylvania Football News All-Class AAAA, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s “Terrific 25”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Fabulous 22”, All Northern Seven, and was one of the players selected to play in the Big 33 Football Classic.
Being one of the most highly decorated stars in WPIAL football, Holtz gained a lot of attention.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of offers coming out of high school. It made me never want to stop working to get to the point where I’m at today so I used that attention as motivation,” Holtz said.
Described as the “Shaler ironman” by Matt Popchock of CBS Pittsburgh, Holtz’s attention led to numerous Division 1 offers including Michigan State, Purdue, West Virginia University, Syracuse, Virginia, and finally to Pitt where he decided to spend his next four years after his decommitment from Penn State amidst the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
“My family is here and I wanted them to be able to come to every game, so that was a big factor in it. But I always felt in my heart that Pitt was where I truly wanted to go,” Holtz said.
As soon as his Pitt career started, Holtz quickly was acclimated to playing Division 1 football, as he started ten out of 13 games racking up 13 catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns. He also was named a Big East All-Academic Football team honoree.
His sophomore year he started all 13 games of the season and had 23 receptions for 209 yards.
Junior year, Holtz started every game once again, caught the ball 21 more times for 199 yards and four touchdowns, one of which was caught in the Armed Forces Bowl against Houston.
His senior year, Holtz was named as a team captain for Pitt and had his best season yet, with 24 receptions for 350 yards, and adding four more receiving touchdowns to his career total. Holtz was also selected to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl All-Star game.
“It was fun [playing in the Collegiate Bowl All-Star game], it was definitely a good experience. The coaches were all NFL Hall of Fame coaches and there were a lot of ex-NFL players there so it was really cool getting to be around them,” Holtz said.
With a successful career at Pitt, Holtz can reflect on the memories he made while playing there.
“It was fun. It was always my dream playing at Heinz Field and I will always cherish that moment, running out of that tunnel onto the field. Now that I look back I think ‘wow I really miss it,’” Holtz said.
But as his career at Pitt comes to an end, Holtz prepares himself for a very possible and imminent new career in the NFL. Holtz is currently meeting with NFL teams to discuss being a possible draft pick or being picked up as a free agent.
“It’s kind of like getting recruited again out of high school. I’ve talked to a lot of teams. [After the all-star game] I met with a lot of teams out there and I met with a few here before pro day,” Holtz said.
At Pitt’s Pro Day, Holtz put up excellent numbers, running a 4.7 second 40 yd dash, and pushing out 20 reps on the bench press.
“I’m very satisfied with [my performance at pro day], I think it went very well, I hit the numbers I wanted to hit, and I think I impressed a lot of people,” Holtz said.
Many of these impressed scouts are hoping to see Holtz at a different position other than tight end on their team, as Holtz has been asked to make a possible switch to fullback by several teams.
“Some teams have mentioned it. Actually more teams have. But there are some that would like me at tight end, too,” Holtz said.
When asked about the difficulty of changing positions, Holtz didn’t seem too worried.
“It’s going to be hard at first, I guess. I’m excited, though. I’m just going to do whatever I have to do to make a team,” Holtz said.
As far as playing in different positions is concerned, Holtz is used to it as he played numerous positions in his high school career including running back, linebacker, quarterback, and of course, tight end.
With many teams already contacting him, Holtz is now preparing for his journey into a professional career.
“All these agents come at you, recruiting you. I picked an agent and signed with him after the season. After the all-star game I went straight to Florida and started training down there. Now I’m back here training and I’m just going to stay here in Pittsburgh just working out. It’s pretty nice, I really don’t have many responsibilities except working out,” Holtz said.
But when asked about the process of meeting with NFL teams, Holtz explains that it’s different than what most people would expect.
“It’s more of trying to figure out what type of person you are, asking questions about your family and all that stuff. I have seen more interest in some of the guys than others; some [NFL teams] make comments like ‘we really like you’, but it’s tough to figure stuff out from guys like that. They like to keep things ‘hush hush’, but definitely it’s a great experience learning about it,” Holtz said. “I have fun with it. I get excited if I get invited out to go on a visit. I have a few things lined up right now.”
Some of the teams contacting Holtz about a potential NFL career include the Bears, Bengals, Browns, Chargers, and the Steelers.
With the draft quickly approaching and with the possibility of his name being called, Holtz explains how he’s not too worried whether or not he’s drafted or picked up as a free agent.
“Being drafted would be cool and a thing I’d always remember, but I’m willing to go wherever a team takes a shot at me, if I have to go free agency I’ll do that. It’s not going to change my mind for what I’m going to work for,” Holtz said.
In fact, on draft day, Holtz is planning to take it easy and relax with his family.
“I’ll be chilling,” laughs Holtz. “I’ll probably watch it every day, nothing crazy, just relax and watch it with my family.”
With his recent downtime, Holtz has time to plan for his future.
“[The future is to] hopefully to play in the NFL for a little, then fall back onto my degree I got from Pitt in criminal justice,” Holtz said.
The 2016 NFL draft is to be held this year on Thursday April 28th, where there is a possibility to hear a Shaler alumni’s name be called.