Chasing Division I dream, former K-town tackle playing at U.S. prep school
Stars and Stripes October 22, 2009
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Former Kaiserslautern All-Europe tackle Andrew Holgate found a new home far from home for his final season of high school football.
“If you want to play Division I (college) football, you need to make sacrifices,” the 6-foot-3, 320-pounder said before departing in August to play his senior year at Blue Ridge School in Dyke, Va. “If I had stayed here, I would have been a team captain and been with my friends and family. But I want to play D-I.”
Playing in college football’s top division is apparently more than a pipe dream for Holgate, who in one five-day camp in Virginia impressed his position coach and Blue Ridge coach Del Smith.
“I was working a ... camp in Williamsburg last June,” Smith said recently by telephone. “There were 200 kids there, and Andrew stood out.”
Holgate stood out so much that Smith invited him to play for Blue Ridge, a boys boarding school with a heavy emphasis on athletic success. Smith said Holgate is the first player from overseas to make his football team.
“We’ve gotten films of players from Europe,” he said, “but we had no way to evaluate them because we couldn’t be sure of the quality of the teams they were playing.” Seeing Holgate perform in person helped seal the deal.
Smith was not the only one at camp impressed by Holgate. Holgate said his line coach, Lorenzo Brommell, who played on four NFL teams, told him he was “more than capable of playing D-I.”
Holgate said living at the school, similar to college players, allows for an intense practice schedule.
“We’ll have a morning session, then school and then an evening session,” Holgate said of the athletic and academic routine the Blue Ridge staff outlined for him during a post-camp visit. “After that, it’s homework and then bed.”
Growth opportunities don’t stop there.
“The schedule’s twice as long as DODDS’,” Holgate said, “and I finally get to play on Friday nights. I’ll even get to play a couple of games in the snow. I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Holgate said everything broke quickly after the Virginia camp.
“It all happened within a week,” Holgate said. “After they made me the offer, we weighed our options and went to visit the campus.”
In football terms, choosing Blue Ridge was a no-brainer. For family reasons, the choice wasn’t all that easy.
“From a parent’s perspective, it was a hard decision to let him leave in his senior year,” Holgate’s mother, Marion, said. “It really made us stand up and see how he is maturing. … He made the decision that he wanted to play college football, and this was the best chance for him. ... It has also been a good move academically in helping him to prepare for college. As parents, we are very proud.”
Smith said Holgate has settled into his new situation.
“He’s doing a great job,” said Smith, whose team is 4-2 going into Friday’s game. “He’s adapting well to the academics and to boarding school.”
His football, however, is coming along more slowly.
“Football’s still a work in progress for Andrew,” Smith said. “It’s a whole different level here from what he’s used to. The teams we play have at least three or four future Division I players on them.”
That’s fine with Holgate, who said coaches from Rutgers, among others, have talked with him.
“I love the level of competition here,” he said recently. “It has forced me to push past petty injuries and my previous limits. I have practiced harder here than I thought possible.”
Holgate said he misses his family and friends in K-town. And vice versa.
“Andrew started on our Academic Games team for three years and captained the team last year as a junior,” Kaiserslautern High School Academic Games coach Jerry Oyan said recently. “He would have been captain again this year. ... After knowing Andrew for eight years, I miss him. A lot.”