Dec. 22, 2011
By Tim Miguel - Cal Athletic Communications
You don't know what you've got until it's gone.
Cal fans may not know how lucky they've been to watch senior linebacker D.J. Holt in the blue and gold until he isn't there anymore in 2012. Although he has not been honored extensively, Holt is without question one of the key cornerstones for the 2011 Golden Bear defense that has been one of the best in the Pac-12 this season.
Every good defense needs a "quarterback" on the field almost just as much as the offense does. The quarterback for the Cal defense this season has not been the 2011 second-team All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Mychal Kendricks, nor has it been All-Pac-12 second-team selection defensive end Trevor Guyton. Those two standouts have been strong contributors for the Bears, and have received the deserved recognition for their efforts, but neither is the captain of the defense.
Holt is the man calling the shots, directing the rest of the Bears to where they need to be on the field. He makes his own share of plays as well, ranking second on the squad in tackles with 81 and tackles for loss with 10.5 (-40 yards).
"It was a good year for me," Holt said. "I made a lot of strides from last year, improving on being a student of the game and being a leader on defense. Physically, I was more prepared than I was last year. I shed a few pounds, so I felt faster and more explosive on the field. As a defense, I feel like we picked it up a notch. Granted, we lost a few games, but we were more physical. We put a name out there for ourselves as one of the better defenses in the conference and became well-known nationally, as well."
Holt is second on the team in tackles to Kendricks. While Kendricks has produced a stronger season on paper, Holt's contributions do not always come up on stat sheets. In a lot of ways, Holt is the glue that held the Bears' tenacious defense in tact throughout the season.
Ever the quiet and modest person on and off the field, Holt was overjoyed when he heard that Kendricks was named the conference's player of the year. Holt knows his role and his place on the defense, and Kendricks receiving the recognition did nothing but put a smile on his face.
"It's a one-two punch," Holt said about playing with Kendricks. "Mychal is one of the most athletic guys that I've ever played with. I tend to possess some athleticism, as well, as a student of the game. I spent a lot of time in the offseason, preparing my body and my mind, as well. I knew I needed to be the leader to get everybody lined up and be the general on the field. I can't be short of anything. I had to be on point and take care of the task at hand."
Holt's work ethic and drive has also rubbed off on the younger players. Freshman outside linebacker Chris McCain said learning from Holt has improved his game and greatly increased his chances of further success at the collegiate level.
"D.J. has taught me a lot," McCain said. "He has a real big voice. He puts the team on his back a lot. He is a great guy, great character. If you need somebody to talk to, he knows all of the plays like the back of his hand. Playing with him this year was excellent; I learned a lot. Although I had never played as an outside linebacker, he knew exactly what I was supposed to do. He's seen stuff that could help me progress over the years."
Holt may have gotten his great work ethic and drive from his father, Shawn. When Holt was growing up and learning the game of football, Shawn spent a considerable amount of time telling D.J. what he needed to improve on after a game, rather than congratulating him for a job well done. But Holt never took the constructive criticism personally and is grateful to his father for instilling in him the notion that there's always more you can do to continue to get better and stronger. Not only having the support of his father, but Holt's mother, Monica, also played a big part in his football career. Monica grew up with four brothers who played football, and while she must have feared for her son's safety as any mother would, she knew the best thing for him to do would be to put the pads on and get out on the field, as well.
Like all the 2011 Cal seniors, Holt has one more opportunity to don the blue and gold at the 2011 Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego. In addition to helping Cal win and collecting double digit tackles along the way, he has one other specific goal that he has yet to do at Cal.
"I don't have a career interception here," Holt said. "Hopefully, I can come up with an interception in this game, but if I don't, I have a long career ahead of me. Eventually they'll come."
Keeping in the spirit of always wanting to help out everybody else except himself, when asked what he hopes to do when he leaves Berkeley, Holt said he wants to give something back after so many people have helped him become the man and football player he is today. Instead of focusing on an NFL career first and foremost, like most collegiate football players do, Holt is more concerned with giving children of today a chance to succeed in football just like he was given.
"I was helped by a lot of people from the time that I started playing football," Holt said. "People have helped me all the way, and now I feel like it's my turn to help out the little kids and high school kids today. It's kind of a soft spot I have."
Undoubtedly, Holt will be missed by his teammates, coaches and Cal fans. They may just not realize it yet. Not until Holt leaves to be a field general in wherever life takes him next.