By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Terrence Holt has spent his entire football career being one of the smaller players on the field, so it doesn't bother him when others point out this fact.
But when he was a 159-pound freshman at Austin Peay in 2007, and he noticed he was getting arm-tackled by others, he decided he needed to get into the weight room. He was concerned that he wouldn't get time at running back if he didn't increase his size and strength.
The 5-foot-7 Holt, who has bulked up to 180 pounds, developed into an All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team running back as a junior last fall. He already was a standout kickoff and punt returner.
This fall, Holt will return for his senior season as one of the Top 10 specialists in the FCS. He has totaled over 4,000 yards and five touchdowns on returns through his first three seasons.
"One of my best assets is my speed and that I'm shifty," Holt said. "A lot of guys see that I'm real small, so they think that just a hand or an arm tackle is all that it takes to get me down. Well, working hard in the weight room got me through that."
Holt owns most of the OVC season and career records for kickoff returns, having made 144 returns for 3,583 yards (24.8-yard average) and three touchdowns. He also has returned 42 punts in his career for 481 yards (11.5- yard average) and two TDs. As a junior, he surpassed both averages, going for 25.4 yards on 47 kickoff returns and 12.4 yards on 16 punt returns.
Ironically, Austin Peay had a history of porous kickoff returns until Holt came along. Now the Governors have one of the FCS' best returners.
"One of the key things that I like to go about when I play is (to) never get tackled by one person," Holt said.
"I make it my duty to give the offense a short field position, so it will be easier to score."
Four of the eight specialists who made The Sports Network All-America first or second teams last season return this fall, so it should be an excellent season for place-kickers, punters and returners. Here are nine more players to watch from our Top 10 specialists in the FCS:
Matt Bevins, Liberty, Junior, Place-kicker - The Sports Network All-America first-team selection is a special kicker, considering he is 34 of 42 (80.5 percent) on field-goal attempts through his first two seasons. Last year's 22- of-26 accuracy included 6-for-8 from 40 yards and beyond (with a long of 50 yards), and the 6-2, 185-pounder set a Big South Conference single-season kicking record with 107 points, which led to him ranking third in total scoring (9.7 ppg) in the FCS. On his kickoffs, one out of every six went for a touchback.
Zach Brown, Portland State, Sophomore, Place-kicker - Brown is a former soccer standout who displayed a potential NFL future while winning All-Big Sky Conference first-team honors as a freshman. He was 18 of 25 on field-goal attempts, including 5 of 7 from 40-49 yards (his long was a 52-yarder). He also was 21-for-21 on PATs and averaged 65.5 yards per kickoff. At 6-1, 180 pounds, the excellent athlete also played some wide receiver for the Vikings.
Patrick Dolan, Nicholls State, Senior, Punter - Work ethic doesn't usually come to mind first with a punter, but that is one of Dolan's top traits. It might not be surprising when you consider he has the second-highest cumulative GPA on the Colonels' team. Last season, the 6-1, 180-pounder ranked fifth in the FCS with a 42.7-yard average on 59 punts. He earned All- Southland Conference first-team honors. Dolan's younger brother Andrew also is a kicker/punter in the program.
Mareo Howard, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Junior, Kickoff Returner - Howard isn't just fast and elusive, he's deceptively strong for someone who is 5-8, 180 pounds. He stays low to the ground and then shifts into overdrive when he finds open field. He made The Sports Network All-America first team as a sophomore, averaging 31.0 yards on 13 kickoff returns, including a 95-yard touchdown. New Golden Lions offensive coordinator Jerry Mack plans to make Howard a bigger part of the game plan as a slot receiver.
Jonathan Plisco, Old Dominion, Sophomore, Punter - The Sports Network All- America second-team punter averaged an FCS-high 44.8 yards on 52 punts last season, kicking 18 for at least 50 yards (including a 76-yarder). A tight end and linebacker in high school, he has excellent size at 6 feet, 220 pounds. He's right-handed, but injured his right foot as a kid and learned to kick predominately with his left foot. He has a quick drop to his foot and a hang time of 5-6 seconds.
Matt Szczur, Villanova, Senior, Kickoff Returner - Catch him if you can. The fast, elusive Szczur is one of the more accomplished - and feared - players in the FCS. He averaged 27.2 yards on 30 returns, including an 87-yard touchdown, for the national champions last season. Of course, the versatile wide receiver, who runs the Wildcat offense for 'Nova, must decide in the near future whether he will play his senior season or forego it to sign with the Chicago Cubs, who selected him in the fifth round of this week's draft.
Kiare Thompson, Grambling State, Senior, Punt Returner - Through his diligent style, Thompson has developed into a consistent threat for the Tigers. He averaged an impressive 19.4 yards on 21 punt returns last season while being named to the All-Southwestern Athletic Conference first team and The Sports Network All-America second team. The 6-1, 185-pounder also caught 28 passes to lead the team.
Pedro Ventura, Prairie View A&M, Senior, Punter - Head coach Henry Frazier refers to Ventura as the Tiger Woods of football because he can put the ball anywhere he wants to. Ventura (5-9, 170) brings a calm approach to the position and has a powerful leg. Last season, the All-SWAC first-team selection averaged 43.8 yards on 44 punts, sending 15 inside his opponent's 20-yard line. Ventura can kick long field goals for the Panthers, too.