Athens Academy junior Johnerio Holt has been waiting for the opportunity that knocked on his door on May 12 since he was 4 years old. Holt received his first college football scholarship offer from East Carolina University.
Teammate and friend Hugh Laughlin can relate to the anxiety that comes along with the early stages of the process for prospective college football players. Laughlin committed to the University of Virginia May 7 and has navigated the recruiting world for the last three years.
“I was super pumped for him,” Laughlin said. “There’s always stress in the recruiting world. You’re thinking ‘why in the world is this dude getting an offer and I’m not getting an offer?’ but its always great to get that first one and get it out of the way and know that you can go somewhere and play football.”
Holt and Laughlin clicked early last season following Holt’s transfer from Athens Christian School in the summer. Laughlin remembers having Holt over at his house and trying to wrestle with the rising sophomore. He found out that Holt was more than his well-mannered and humble outer shell.
“He was very respectful and very humble, but you knew he could do something,” Laughlin said. “Just playing around with him, we play wrestle all the time, but he’s a tough guy. That’s how a lot of the guys on our football team are.”
Holt is expected to get more offers in the coming months and years. Holt already stands 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighs nearly 270 pounds. Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander Holt as one of the most dominant football players he’s coached.
That’s a compliment of the highest order considering the Spartans have featured five Division I players the last few seasons. Len’Neth Whitehead will be heading to the University of Tennessee in the fall and Kurt Knisely will be a preferred walk on at the University of Georgia. Laughlin is a UVA commit and Deion Colzie is ranked as the ninth best wide receiver in the country and 72nd best player in the country by ESPN but remains uncommitted after he decommitted from Notre Dame on March 20.
“He’s so young but he’s very explosive,” Alexander said. “There’s some film from last year where he was matched up with a couple of kids that were Division I athletes that were committed to major colleges and he just absolutely did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it with those kids. I hadn’t seen that in a long time. The ability to physically dominate those types of players is rare. When he wants to flip the switch it is flipped and it’s fun to watch.”
As dominant as Holt is on the football field and in the weight room, he carries himself with a humble spirit.
Alexander referred to Holt as an ‘old soul.’
Holt considers himself a bit of a throwback player. He doesn’t fancy the armbands and all of the dressings that to the uniform he wears. He likes lining up and beating the guy across from him.
“Playing on the offensive and defensive line, I’m kind of bland,” Holt said. “I don’t go with all the wristbands and the fancy cleats. I just like to go out and play hardnosed football. That’s just straight. I look it like whoever is lining up against me wants to beat me as badly as I want to beat them. You’ve always got to have that mentality. I look at myself as an old school football player. I strap up my shoes, buckle the helmet and it’s time to play ball.”
The throwback spirit doesn’t only manifest in the way he presents himself on a football field, it trickles down to his personality and how Holt treats those around him.
Alexander notes that Holt speaks to everyone the same. His relationship to a person doesn’t determine how he approaches them.
Holt learned that skillset at home and in the church. Holt’s mother has had him going in and out of a church for most of his life on Sunday’s and Wednesdays.
Holt has learned that treating others with can not only make their day better but in return put out the positive energy into the world that comes back around to him in more ways than one.
“I’ve always been a very friendly person,” Holt said. “I like speaking to people. You never know what anybody is going through if you don’t speak up to them. Somebody could be having a bad day or having a tough time. A ‘Hey, how is your day?’ could brighten anyone’s day… Being around the religious part of my life I’ve seen being nice and following in God’s footsteps just clears everything in your path.”
No matter where his football career goes in the coming years, Holt feels his faith and the lessons he’s learned from it will keep him as the same humble guy he has been. Having those lessons from his faith has guided Holt throughout the recruiting process up to this point and warded off any jealousy or impatience that could consume him early on in his career.
“Reading scripture and praying about situations will always teach you not to worry about who’s going to get this offer or who is going to look at you this game or who is going to watch your film or this or that,” Holt said. “You’ve got to look at the fact that you’re playing your hardest and you’re doing what you can do. You can’t stress about it.”