By Corbin McGuire
K-State football’s Adam Holtorf was sitting at a restaurant in Aggieville when he found out he was being moved to center. It was the summer of 2015, and he had just moved to Manhattan.
He had no idea that, when he and the other then-freshmen linemen — Scott Frantz, Tyler Mitchell and Evan Curl, all three now fifth-year seniors who flank Holtorf on K-State’s starting line — went out for a bite to eat on their first day at K-State, former offensive line coach Charlie Dickey would call one of them.
Or that the group would pass the phone around, one by one talking to their position coach. Or what that conversation would turn into when he got the phone.
“That’s when he told me he was going to move me to center,” Holtorf said, who remembered being blindsided by it. “It was enough processing moving into college and starting everything. Knowing I was going to make a position change was a lot in the moment.
“He told me it was going to be like drinking water through a fire hose, and it definitely was for the first 18 months or so. But — and hindsight (is) 20/20 — I couldn’t be happier with the move.”
Holtorf has thrived at the position.
He’s started every game there since his redshirt sophomore season started, 33 in all going into No. 16 K-State’s (6-2, 3-2) battle at Texas (5-3, 3-2) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., on ESPN. His first campaign on the field as a starter ended with K-State’s third-most rushing yards per carry (4.98) in school history. This season, he’s been in the middle of K-State’s resurgence in the run game, most recently a 342-yard rushing performance in last week’s win at Kansas.
“Everything he does for our offensive line, I think he’s the core,” senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon said of Holtorf. “He’s definitely, in my eyes, one of the best centers in the nation this year.”
Holtorf was waiting for a captains’ meeting to start last Monday, October 28, when K-State head coach Chris Klieman walked up to him and pulled out his phone.
“He was, like, ‘Hey, have you seen this email?” Holtorf recalled.
Holtorf had not. So, Klieman handed the phone over so Holtorf could read that he was a member of the 2019 National Football Foundation (NFF) National Scholar-Athlete Class. Soon, K-State’s senior center saw another prestigious honor in “big, bold letters.”
“It said, ‘You’ve been named a finalist for the Campbell Trophy,'” Holtorf recalled. “It was just tons of shock. It’s something that I never thought I’d be a finalist for. To be in this position, there’s tons of excitement.”
The two honors, which are connected, come with an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and a trip to the 62nd NFF Annual Awards Dinner in New York City, where he and the 11 other finalists will be honored on December 10. Holtorf is the seventh Wildcat ever to earn the distinction and the second in as many years, following Dalton Risner, who gave his former teammate a shoutout on Twitter.
— K-State Football (@KStateFB) October 30, 2019
“It’s a huge honor to be named a finalist, and tons of emotion, tons of excitement when I fully realized what all being a finalist entailed,” he said. “It’s a huge honor.”
It’s also the latest in an escalating amount of academically driven honors he’s has earned at K-State.
Holtorf, who received interest out of Seward High School (Nebraska) from a few Ivy League schools, has been named a First Team Academic All-Big 12 member the last two seasons, with a third such honor likely on its way. Last season, he became K-State football’s first academic All-American (CoSIDA, First Team) since 2014 and only the second offensive lineman to earn the distinction since 2003.
In some ways, Holtorf’s success at center is connected to his brainpower. Amongst the offensive line, it’s the position with the most mental responsibility on its plate.
“There is definitely that element that you do have to have that increased knowledge, and it’s not like an IQ test could qualify you for center, but the ability to process multiple things at a time is a quality that’s extremely important for that position,” Holtorf said. “I think the biggest thing is having a really good understanding of the offense and structures, and that’s something Coach (Conor) Riley’s done a great job of, is explaining safety rotation and things like that to know where you’re expecting an extra rusher from, understanding box structures and counting which blockers are going to be going where, things like that.
“The more you understand that, the more the game slows down, especially when you get out there. That’s really helped me. The slower the game is for you, the easier things become.”
Still, it took years to get to this point.
Holtorf said there were plenty of physical hurdles to clear before he was ever game ready. Snapping, in particular, was an extreme adjustment for someone recruited as an interior lineman and who hadn’t done so since the eighth grade.
“Being able snap and block, almost simultaneously, was a challenge,” he said. “You have to worry about snap height, snap direction. Different footwork can cause the snaps to go different directions, if you’re not conscious of those things. That was something even through my second year here that was still a work in progress. A lot of reps before practice, after practice, things like that, have really helped, but that was probably the toughest piece of that move from the start.”
Dishon said Holtorf always possessed one piece of the puzzle: His hands.
“What I don’t like, as a defensive lineman, is when an offensive lineman has great hands, and if they get their hands on you and they have strong hands, you really can’t get off that block,” Dishon said. “He’s that guy. He’s definitely that guy where you don’t want to let him get his hands on you because that might be the end of your play if you do.”
Plenty of opposing defensive linemen could say the same.
Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Holtorf allowed only four pressures on 354 pass-blocking snaps, best in the Big 12. This season, he’s helped K-State’s offense pick up a new system in stride. The Wildcats currently rank fourth in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game and first in time of possession en route to becoming bowl eligible the earliest in a season since 2014, when he was a high school senior playing tackle.
All of it, Holtorf said, has allowed him to reflect on the “immense amount of growth I went through here at K-State, not just on the field but off the field.”
“It was completely new coming in here, a huge learning curve at first, but it’s something I stuck with and put a ton of work into,” he said. “To be able to have some of the rewards down the line as a senior has been huge. You put so much in the bank with all the reps and the hard work and now you get to withdraw and get some of those rewards. It’s something that’s truly been special.”
Even better, Holtorf has been able to reap those some of those rewards alongside the same people he started his career with on that summer day in Aggieville, teammates he barely knew at the time but considers brothers now.
“It’s extremely fulfilling, it’s extremely humbling, and it means so much to me to be able to go out with these seniors with some of the success we’ve been having. There’s so many of us who all came in in the same recruiting class together,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot together. Through the ups and downs, we’ve all stuck together and we’re still here. It’s an extremely close-knit group, so to be able to have the success we’re having, you couldn’t script it much better.”
@NickKalt74 @ScottFrantz74 @turkey_thug_77 @rivas_josh @aholtorf79 @texascurl
Really pleased with effort & growth of this crew! Proud to coach them & love the way they compete!
Stay hungry & humble as we still have miles to go! #Crank #Juice #KHCO #GovernorsCup #CompeteImprove pic.twitter.com/WSMGlL0R4B
Source: Kansas State Sports