Army freshman offensive lineman Bryce Holland stands out as a Rivals 3-star recruit in preparation for his first Army-Navy Game on Dec. 13 in Baltimore.
“I’m stoked,” Holland said. “I’ve heard about this game my whole life.”
Over the years Rivals has been accused of upgrading recruits from a 3-star to a 4-star if they are targeted by the elite schools such as Alabama, USC or Ohio State. Conversely, 4-stars have been downgraded to a 3-star if they’re not targets of such schools.
Logically by extension, a player such as Holland could have been downgraded to a 2-star following his Army commitment. But Holland, unlike other prominent recruits enjoying the lifestyle of a college football player at a civilian school, turned down schools for a West Point commitment.
Rivals kept him ranked as a 3-star recruit, and he may be an example of things to come as more American youth consider the academies as a response to serving their country following 9/11 and the uncertain economic times with guaranteed employment as a lieutenant.
“I’d like to be an example for the future,” Holland said. “But the truth is everyone here is an example. I wouldn’t change my decision to come here.”
Holland’s apparent advantage in talent based on rankings didn’t allow him to jump into the starting the lineup as a plebe – a true freshman in civilian football vernacular. He had to work his way up; he didn’t play until the season’s fifth game and made his first start in the 11th, a win over Fordham two weeks ago.
“Everyone comes in with high expectations going to Division I football,” Holland said. “They come in expecting to play. But it’s about picking up the style of offense you’re playing and getting the game to slow down so you’re used to the plays. There are mental and physical adjustments. Plus, there is taking on school and meshing with your teammates.”
For the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Holland, he had to learn a new style of blocking in a triple-option offense with cut and chop blocks against bigger opponents. He played in a pro-style offense in high school at Chandler (Az.) Hamilton.
“I had to learn to play at an extremely low pad level and the speed of the triple option,” Holland said. “It’s fast, you’ve got to be real low and you got to have great footwork. We have great coaches and great teammates to help us out and get it right.”
The scheme also requires finding a group of five that can play together with timing. First-year Army head coach Jeff Monken and his staff shuffled the lineup throughout the season before settling on Holland and Jaryn Villegas (a freshman by way of the USMA Prep School) as the guards, juniors Corey Hobbs and Drew Hennessy at the tackles and junior Matt Hugenberg at center. It was the ninth straight week they started a different five.
If they don’t all repeat as starters against Navy, the Black Knights at least return a veteran group for the 2015 season.
“We’re working as hard as we can,” Holland said. “I don’t think there is any reason we can’t win the game if we play hard and play like I know we can.”