January 10, 2011 – University of Phoenix Stadium. It’s the third quarter of the BCS National Championship game, the Oregon Ducks are trailing the Auburn Tigers 19 -11. The Ducks have the ball and are driving into Auburn territory. On 3rd and long, Oregon quarterbackDarron Thomas drops back to pass but he is hurried by a blitzing Tiger middle line backer and the pass falls incomplete.
That may not seem like such a big deal for a middle linebacker, after all that’s his job. But this linebacker was a true freshman backup … 19 year old Jake Holland. He had proved his savvy enough as a freshman for Gene Chizik to allow him to call a zone blitz in the biggest game in college football.
Coming out of high school, Jake was a 6-A All-State middle line backer and ranked by both Rivals and Scout as the No.8 MLB in the nation. He put up huge numbers in his three years of high school ball and over two dozen colleges offered him a scholarship.
Jake really seem to come into his own as the Tigers’ starting man in the middle in the fifth game of the 2011 season against South Carolina. He was assigned the task of containing the Gamecocks leading rusher and Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore.
Holland responded to the challenge with six tackles and two forced fumbles. More importantly, he locked down the nation’s third leading rusher. Lattimore was held to 66 yards and wasn’t able to catch a pass all night as the Tigers defeated the No.9 Gamecocks 16-13.
It was starting to look like Jake was going to be the beast that signed out of Pelham High School in 2010. But then his game was slowed down significantly from several injuries and by the Florida game he had lost the starting job to senior Eltoro Freeman.
Most fans were aware that Jake had some injuries last year but many didn’t know just how severe the injuries were. To start with he had two high ankle sprains. It’s difficult to walk with even one high ankle sprain much less trying to play football with both ankles hurt. He also played with a torn bicep and broken bone in his right wrist.
But Jake has a true tough as nails line backer personality and he kept practicing and trying to play. He didn’t give up. He didn’t throw in the towel. He kept working and going to rehab everyday.
Why would Jake subject himself to playing through so much pain? There can be only one answer – Jake Holland is a football player – a throwback, gritty, hard nose football player.
Even though he missed almost half of the season, he wound up with two interceptions and 43 tackles including 4 for a loss. Just think what a healthy Jake Holland will be able to do in 2012.
It didn’t take long for new Defensive Coordinator Brian Van Gorder to realize what he had in Holland. He has already said that Jake will be the clear-cut starter in the middle, making him the key man in the Auburn D.
Van Gorder has a reputation for demanding tough physical play from his players. He knows better than most that playing SEC football is a tough assignment and playing middle line backer in the SEC is an even tougher assignment.
The timid need not apply. Only guys that are football savvy and are tough as nails are fit to be the …
Man In The Middle.