To Be Kurt, He Wants It All
BY JAY GREENBERG
Without further adieu, we will get to the ‘do. Kurt Holuba, voted the second best defensive player in the Ivy League in 2016, has his head wrapped so tightly around the idea of being the best in 2017 that he is leaving nothing out of place.
That includes eradicated cellulite, eyelids drooping during marathon hours of film study, and stray strands on either side of his head. Only down the middle does Holuba remain hirsute, and inquiring minds want to know why.
A statement proclaiming that there will be even Mo’ hawking of quarterbacks this time around? Symbolism for his loss of the Asa S. Bushnell Cup to Dartmouth’s Folarin Orimolade by a close shave? Just a laugh to get through the dog days of training camp, adding one more Ho to Ho-Ho Kus, his hometown? An adornment to get him in a working mood for a senior thesis about the French and Indian War?
As an official website of the nation’s best undergraduate university, we have an obligation to educate here, so after exhaustive research–ok, Wikipedia–you may be interested to learn that the Mohawk haircut actually was sported by the Iroquois and that Holuba had precise reasons for this cut, some of which he may eventually remember.
“Mentality thing,” he said. “You need a few screws loose to play defense, so set the tone with a haircut.
“Besides it’s a lot cooler in the helmet. So why not?”
As it turns out, jacket weather has prevailed almost since camp began. So we won’t try to figure it out, only report to you that Holuba is as lean as he looks mean, in addition to being more determined than ever to leave it all on the field, unlike when he told the barber to leave it all on the floor except for a strip.
“I was going to be motivated no matter what but [the Bushnell runner-up] is extra topping on it,” he says. “It keeps me hungry and working hard.
“I want to leave no doubt this year in anybody’s mind about who is the best defensive player in the league.”
There is little doubt in Defensive Coordinator Steve Verbit’s mind that Holuba has a head start on becoming the best defensive lineman of a Bob Surace era that already has produced two NFL players–Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid.
“Cat was a fullback in high school so he came here without defensive experience,” recalls Verbit. “Because of his big body and energy he exhibited, we thought he would have an opportunity as a defensive player.
“Defensive linemen are always a tough commodity to find, so we made the switch. I know Cat had an offer at Temple, but that may have been his only other one. Caraun was recruited as a D-lineman and had some 1-AA offers but the [1-A] schools were scared off because of his (6-2) height.
“Cat is in his fifth year in the NFL and Caraun in his fourth, meaning these guys, as it turned out, could have played anywhere. But Kurt was highly-recruited–by the Pac 10, Big 10, SEC, ACC–from the start.”
Princeton got him because Holuba’s older brother Rob played here; because there was another sibling, Jack, who had a positive Ivy football experience, albeit at Harvard. The Tiger players and coaches make a good and warm impression at summer camps and the official visit and, in the end, Princeton gets students because it is Princeton. Now it is getting elite athletes who see evidence that they can prepare there for NFL shots.
Holuba has so much natural quickness that he started Game One of his freshman season as a 230-pounder. But that is not the same frame under that shorn head today.
“The last four months he’s changed his body,” said Verbit. “He had already grown to 265 but his percentage of body fat has decreased [by four percent].
“So now he’s a bigger, tighter, stronger body, with the great takeoff that they are looking for in the NFL. It’s a little early to talk about that, but he is growing each year to become what it takes to have an opportunity to get to the next level.
“During the month of June he worked with Catapano up at Parisi (Sports Clubs USA, (Midland Park, NJ), where they drive you sadistically, and then Kurt worked with Caraun when he came to campus prior to going to Chargers camp. Kurt is proactive in reaching out to our guys who are at the next level. So he fully understands everything that will be involved with getting that opportunity.
“He is as good a worker as we ever have had. There are no shortcuts–he does it in the weight room, the track and film room, he studies; wants to improve his craft to the highest possible level he can obtain.”
That is the NFL. But first things first–an Ivy title to repeat. In light of the importance of a pass rush, inexperience in the back seven, and a thinned-out depth chart for non-football reasons on the D Line, Holuba’s health and dominance are essential to Tiger hopes.
Of course he will draw double teams, which will aid others, but Holuba needs help too, from underclassmen.
“We have some guys progressing fast,” he says.
Foremost is sophomore Matt Hampson, a heavy recruit by MAC schools and the service academies, who is expected to be the line’s anchor after Holuba graduates.
“He is a playmaker,” said Verbit. Hampson will start at the opposite end from Holuba and junior Jake Strain likely is the first-string nose tackle. But chances are there will be more rotating than ever according to down and distance.
“There are about eight guys we have the opportunity to swing in and out based on personnel situations,” said Verbit. “There will be a run-oriented group and a nickel- and-dime-oriented group.”
There are athletes here; perhaps not enough of them of size.
“We are a little on the small side,” said Surace. “We have to keep these guys healthy,
“We are two deep. But the way we rotate, we really need to be three deep. Guys get nicked.”
As witnessed in 2016, they also can get better as seasons go along. Simeon Lane, who played a lot as a freshman but was injured last year, will back up Strain and then possibly be outside on passing downs. Sophomore Jay Rolader is a comer at the nose, converted linebacker Rick Raga may be the strongest man on the team and Joe Percival, Khalil Bryant, and Mike Perloski can be the right guys for the right down.
Freshmen Sam Wright and Connor Mills have the raw ability to get on the field early in their Princeton time, assuming they study and emulate a Bushnell candidate.
Now that the pads are on for most practices, the best free show in Princeton Township is Holuba going up against offensive tackle Mitch Sweigart, another NFL prospect.
“There is nothing better than having an opportunity to go against an outstanding player day-in, day-out,” said Verbit. “Mitch wins his fair share and Kurt wins his fair share.”
All good. But come December at the Bushnell announcement, Holuba doesn’t want to share with anyone.