Linebacker likes playing underdog for once

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    By CHRISTOPHER MOORE

    Jeff Holtry has never been an underdog.

    From his days at West High School in Salt Lake City, as Utah’s most highly recruited defensive player, to a National Championship in 1997 with Michigan University, to last season’s defensive impact with BYU as a transfer, Holtry has always come out on top.

    But as the Brigham Young University football team prepares in what is arguably its toughest schedule ever, the critics doubt that Holtry and the club will maintain its usual winning ways, much less survive.

    Which is the way the 6-foot-3-inch, 245-lb. middle linebacker likes it.

    “Everybody is going to look at us as underdogs, which is great,” said Holtry. “We can play all-out and do a little damage. We don’t have to hold back anything.”

    BYU opens the season against defending National Champion Florida State in the Pigskin Classic. Then the Cougars will play perennial powerhouses Syracuse, Mississippi State and Virginia — all in addition to their usually challenging Mountain West Conference opponents.

    Though BYU will lose some key defensive players to graduation and probably the professional ranks, Holtry and the defensive line are more than ready to prove that their “D” won’t be a weakness.

    “Our defense will be really solid,” he said. “Rob (Morris) is gone, but most of our defensive line will be back. Most of the starters this season gained much-needed experience last season, so we will have better communication on the field.”

    Holtry has also had the opportunity to reflect on the many changes that have entered his life the past few years.

    After his sterling high school career, in which he was twice named Gatorade Athlete of the Year, a three-time all-state selection and two-time MVP, Holtry was recruited by Nebraska, Washington, Michigan, BYU, Arizona State, Utah, Texas and USC.

    He chose Michigan and played there two years, seeing action as a linebacker and a deep snapper for special teams. Holtry was a member of the 1997 National Championship team that included current professional football players Brian Griese and Charles Woodson.

    Holtry also served an LDS mission to Tampa, Florida. Upon his return home, Holtry met his future bride, the former Jessica Adams, and decided to transfer to BYU.

    Because of his decision to switch schools, Holtry was unable to play the ’98 season, but gave a huge boost to the defensive in his debut in 1999.

    “It (BYU) was the best situation for us,” Holtry said. “I have a great appreciation for Michigan — I know that one reason I went there was to meet my wife — but we love it here, and I don’t regret a thing.”

    The middle linebacker has received interest from the NFL and would also play professional football in Canada or Europe, if given the chance. Fueled by his love for the game of football, Holtry is majoring in athletic training, hoping to use his personal experiences to help improve and strengthen other athletes.

    Holtry also has a daughter now, who was born the morning of last season’s game against California Berkley.

    “I’m amazed at everything that has happened in a couple of years,” It has been a whirlwind — getting married, transferring schools, having a child, hurting my knee … and I’m just 24 years old.”

    The can’t-miss kid has become a family man.

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