Holland, Frostburg's man in the middle, stands up for the defense

October 11, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Joe Holland has an often-thankless role in a violent game.

As the nose guard in Frostburg State's 3-4 defense, Holland must perform tasks not designed with his personal glory in mind. Clog up the middle. Hold your ground. Claim an occasional tackle. Count on a teammate to get the credit after you've done the dirty work.

Holland has been known to knock an opposing center silly, but he also takes plenty of abuse, such as persistent double-teaming. Then, there are those moments when offensive linemen wander outside the rules to control the Bobcats' 6-foot, 250-pound senior. Sometimes, such as during a recent 46-17 victory over Salisbury State, Holland strikes back.

"Every time he [the Salisbury lineman] could get in a cheap shot, he would, and I would let him go. Then, he started diving at my knees and digging in my eyes. That's when the ref had to get between us. It's one of the few times I've lost it," said Holland, who drew a 15-yard penalty for his retaliatory push.

"I apologized to my teammates for costing us 15 yards. I told him after the game that I play with dignity, and he should try to do the same. You get guys who dive at you when you're running down the field. You get one guy grabbing you by the mask, while another guy cuts you [blocks at the knees]. Some things, you have to get upset with."

As a two-way lineman at City, he was an integral part of two Maryland Scholastic Association championship teams, including the team that won the school's 100th Thanksgiving Day meeting against Poly. As a three-year starter at nose guard for Frostburg State, he has been on the winning side in 15 of his past 17 games, and already has played in two NCAA Division III playoff games.

When the Bobcats (5-0) play host to SUNY-Brockport on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium, they will attempt to take another step toward their second straight playoff berth. They will look again to Holland to spark a defense that has done a remarkable job of putting the ball back in the hands of Frostburg State's deadly wing-T attack.

The Bobcats are averaging 31.4 points and 422 yards. They owe much of their proficiency to a defense that has stuffed teams early and often. Frostburg State has forced 16 turnovers and is allowing 11 points a game. The Bobcats also have surrendered only eight points in the first half this year.

Holland's numbers don't leap off the statistics sheet. But without owning his turf in the middle of the line, the Bobcats wouldn't be allowing only three yards per rush, and inside linebackers like Ryan Harry wouldn't be able to roam free to pick off ball carriers. Harry, with a huge assist from Holland, had a team-high 15 tackles in the Bobcats' 24-21 victory Saturday over Trenton State.

"Joe is a terror inside. He defines our defense. He has to play great for our defense to succeed," Frostburg coach Mike McGlinchey said. "He's big, strong and rugged. He's the kind of guy who you look at and say, 'Now, there's a football player.' "

Holland has a soft-spoken manner and a fixed smile that hide toughness. How else to explain why he played his junior season in the recurring -- sometimes excruciating -- pain that comes with a separated shoulder? How else to explain how Holland sometimes would miss a week of practice, but still start everygame and finish with 72 tackles and three sacks? That gritty display earned him a preseason All-America honor two months ago.

"I would sneeze, and it would pop out. It would pop out in my sleep," said Holland, who originally injured the shoulder as a sophomore. He had it repaired through surgery in January. He spent four months with his arm in a sling, then went through an intensive summer of rehabilitation to get ready for football camp.

Holland is working toward a communications degree that he hopes will land him in television. As a co-captain, he is one of only two seniors on Frostburg State's defense. And he dreams of wearing his first college championship ring.

The violence that consumes him for a few hours each week is a violence far different from the kind he escaped when he left the city for the mountains of Western Maryland three years ago.

"I love Baltimore, but there's a lot of depressing things there," said Holland, who comes from Park Heights. "Every few months, I get a call about friends who have gotten shot or have gone to jail. I'm glad I'm not around to get mixed up in that stuff.

"I like it up here. This is like my little haven. Football is my idea of fun. I may not get my sacks or my stats, but I try to make things happen for other people. I'm satisfied with that role, because it needs to be done. Now that I'm a senior, I feel like the spotlight is on what I do. I try to do more, rather than say more."

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