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Q&A: Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz

Pitt played four true freshmen this year: tight end J.P. Holtz, defensive lineman Darryl Render, running back Rushel Shell and cornerback Jahmahl Pardner.

Holtz is the only one in that group that has started. Because of injuries to Hubie Graham and Drew Carswell, Holtz ended up playing in all 12 games. He recorded nine starts, with 12 receptions for 170 yards and three touchdowns on the year.

He is hoping the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday against Ole Miss will serve as a springboard for the 2013 season. I had a chance to catch up with him recently, and here is a little of what he had to say.

You obviously got onto the field early and often this year. Did the coaches give you any hint this could happen during fall practice?

J.P. Holtz: They didn’t really tell me that I could play. I realized it because there weren’t that many tight ends, and I know with the offense they run, they have a lot of two tight end, three tight end sets, I just tried working my hardest to earn one of those spots and earn some playing time this year.

You were a Penn State commit, but changed your mind. Why?

JPH: Mainly the coaches coming here. I really like the coaching staff, I knew it would fit me well. Mainly my family, too. I live 15 minutes away from campus, and I could see my parents all the time and they could come to all my home games. Those were the main factors.

How much of an influence was the way Paul Chryst ran his scheme at Wisconsin?

JPH: That was definitely a big factor, too. I knew Pitt didn’t have a lot of tight ends because the last coaches didn’t use many tight ends in the offense. When Coach Chryst came in, I knew that previously at Wisconsin they used them a lot, and tight ends have been successful in the offense. I came down to Pitt and I love it here.

You were a linebacker in high school, too. Did you consider playing linebacker in college?

JPH: A lot of schools did recruit me at linebacker. I just felt tight end was a more natural position for me. I knew if I worked at it, tight end would be my position in the future.

What have been some of the biggest things you’ve learned?

JPH: Definitely all the fundamentals in blocking, and dealing with the size of the opponents. I’m not used to blocking 300-pounders. Definitely, blocking is a lot harder than it looks. But with Coach [Joe] Rudolph as a coach -- if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be right now blocking wise. He helped me a lot. When I came into camp, I didn’t know how to block. He got me ready for the season.

You had a few pretty nifty moves, bulldozing over a few would-be tacklers. Is that something that could become a trademark for you?

JPH: I definitely see plays like that in the future. Those plays, they were great play calls and I just got a great opportunity to catch the ball and be open. I plan on doing that more in the future.