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With Browns, Shaler grad Holtz hopes to be part of future Cleveland success

| Sunday, July 17, 2016, 6:48 p.m.
Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz sits on the bench against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz sits on the bench against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, at Heinz Field.

J.P. Holtz would like to find a way to be involved in what has become a long-awaited summer of optimism for Cleveland. Following the Cavaliers' NBA title that brought the city its first major professional sports title since 1964, the Indians caught fire and surged to first place in the American League Central.

The surge in energy in the city is palpable.

“You definitely can feel it,” Holtz said. “I was there all offseason. We were there when the Cavs won the championship, it was awesome for the city. They've been waiting for it for so long, they love sports there. They said if Browns start winning, it would be even crazier.”

Basking in any hypothetical euphoria isn't a given for Holtz, a former Shaler and Pitt standout tight end. When Holtz arrives at his first Browns' training camp July 25 in Berea, Ohio, he will be in a fight for a roster spot.

Holtz signed with the Browns after going undrafted in April. Cleveland has talent at the position, Pro Bowler Gary Barnidge caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards last season.

Lack of job security was never a staple in Holtz's career.

“Not really. I am excited for it,” said Holtz, who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. “I know I have a lot of work to do. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to work hard and do what I have to do.”

Finding a job isn't impossible. Last season, a mix of 486 rookies and veteran undrafted players made Week 1 53-man rosters among the 32 NFL teams.

There is also historical precedent for former Titans. Three Shaler players — Steve Sciullo, Leo Elter and Ken Karcher — have reached the NFL.

Karcher and Elter were both undrafted. Elter, a running back, spent six years with the Redskins and Steelers, making the Pro Bowl in 1956. Karcher spent two years with the Denver Broncos as a quarterback in the late 1980s.

Sticking around in training camp requires more than physical skills.

“I don't think any player views themselves as being fringe,” said Karcher, who is head coach at East Central (Miss.) Community College. “If you think that, you have no chance. You have to assess the reality of your situation and do the best in your role. … You need something special. For me, it was being able to pick up the Broncos' system.”

Adapting is a skill Holtz has on his resume. Before his senior season at Pitt, Pat Narduzzi took over as head coach for Paul Chryst.

There were a lot of changes to take in. Holtz finished his career with the Panthers with 81 catches for 931 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I had to learn a whole new offense. It's like the situation I'm in now,” Holtz said. “It's a lot to learn at first. It helped me by showing you can't be comfortable where you are at.”

Holtz has seen the victory parade.

He would like to be a part of the next one.

“I just work like it's my last day, honestly,” Holtz said. “Leave it all out there. I don't want to look back and say I could have done this differently.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

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