As the NFL scouts sauntered in through the doorway of the Fisher Football Complex at Ball State over the past two seasons, there was one player that gradually – not automatically - made his presence felt with those in charge of discovering talent to stock their rosters.
Cardinal offensive lineman Austin Holtz transformed himself physically over the past 24 months and the payoff is he now has an opportunity of a lifetime with the Detroit Lions.
The Lions signed Holtz to a free agent contract late Saturday following the conclusion of the NFL Draft.
“I don’t know if I could point to a guy who has come as far in two years, in terms of how he’s changed his body,” Cardinal coach Pete Lembo said.
When Lembo took over in Muncie, Holtz was a 257-pound athlete “that looked like a big tight end,” Lembo said. The coach turned Holtz over the Cardinal strength and conditioning coach Dave Feeley and over the course of time; Feeley put nearly 45 pounds onto Holtz’s 6-foot-5 frame.
“The first thing that goes into adding weight is trust,” Feeley explained. “It was important for me to trust Austin and for him to trust me.”
Feeley began to trust Holtz during a summer workout session when Holtz showed the Cardinal coaches how serious he was about becoming as good of a player as he could be.
Holtz had a summer job which prohibited him from working out during regular hours, so Feeley and his staff had Holtz in the weight room at 5:01 a.m. each day and Holtz never wavered in his dedication.
“It was a one-on-one session, every day just so that he could have a job and still try to be the best player he could be,” Feeley explained. “Once he started doing that, I had a feeling that kid was seriously something special.”
As the weight began to accumulate on Holtz, his level of play and physicality rose, as well. He ultimately started 32 games at Ball State and not only was awarded the Cardinals’ strength and conditioning award as a senior, but also was All-Mid-American Conference first team.
“I told him that he was going to gain more muscle mass,” Feeley said. “If you can put your foot in the ground with more force, and your legs are stronger, you are going to be faster, you are going to be more physical, and you are going to be more on the football field than you previously had.”
Holtz had some esteemed company when he was named to the All-MAC squad in December. He was joined by Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the first overall selection.
Lembo stated that if work ethic has anything to do with Holtz making the final roster with the Lions, the Cardinal standout has a great shot at sticking with the club.
"His work ethic and determination, how coachable he was both in the weight room and on the field, was tremendous,” Lembo said. “I went into the weight room on Friday and there was Austin, working hard and keeping his fingers crossed that he’d get the kind of call that he did.”