Rich Holzer took over the Meade football program last season, and the Mustangs have already clinched their first back-to-back winning seasons in a couple of decades.
At 6-2, the Mustangs are in fifth place in a tight race for one of four Class 4A East regional playoff berths. Arundel and Old Mill have clinched their spots, while Broadneck is currently third and South River, fourth. However, Meade, Broadneck and South River all have 6-2 records with two games left, so the final two spots are still up for grabs.
The Mustangs host Severna Park on Friday night and then conclude the regular season at home against Broadneck, which ended their playoff hopes last season. Meade finished 6-4 a year ago, but the 31-24 loss to the Bruins in the last game of the season cost them their first playoff berth since 2001.
Holzer, 34, played high school football for his father, Rich Holzer III, at Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains, N.Y., earning honorable-mention All-America honors from USA Today at offensive guard. He then started for three years at Hofstra before spending a year as a high school coach in New York and a year as a Hofstra assistant.
With teacher cutbacks in New York, he said he applied for jobs in several states and got one at Westlake in Charles County in 2003. He spent five years as defensive coordinator at Westlake before moving on to take over the program at Parkdale in Prince Georges County, where his team improved from 1-9 to 5-5 in three years. Last year, he arrived at Meade, where he also teaches physical education and weight training.
As this week’s Coachspeak guest, Holzer talks about Meade’s success, learning the game from his father and a regional playoff race that could come down to the season finale.
Describe the changes you’ve made since you took over at Meade and how things have come together this season.
It came together a little bit last year, and it’s finally getting to the point where we’re clicking on all cylinders. I think the big change we made is we instilled a very high level of discipline and accountability, not just between coach and player but between player and player. We’re trying to bring back the pride in the community and the school that had been there in the '90s when they were very good in football. That’s a big change. The kids have a work ethic and a discipline now that wasn’t there before. We’ve already clinched back-to-back winning seasons and I think our AD told me that’s the first time in well over 20 years. That’s probably since Jerry Hartman in the mid-90s.
I read that your father was a defensive-minded football coach, but when you were young, you used to draw up trick plays to try to beat his defenses. Is that when you began to think about coaching as a career?
Yeah, I got started really young. From the time I think I could walk, I was in the locker room and my son’s like that now. He’s on the field with me every week after the game. I was always around players, around teams. I was in the locker room and I took a real interest in the game from the time I was little. I think I was drawn to it. I have a great relationship with my father, and I think that contributed to it. My father’s been my role model and I kind of saw what he did and his passion for it and it translated over to me. My dad used to joke around, because he’s still friends with a lot of those guys [offensive coaches his son drew up the trick plays for] and keeps in touch with a lot of them. They joke around that they can show me plays from when I was 5, double reverses and triple reverses that I drew up. It probably started when I was 5 years old (laughs). There’s a funny story about that, too. In 1988, my father’s team was in the state championships in New York and they actually ran one of my plays for a touchdown (laughs). It was a trick play, obviously.
What do you enjoy most, developing offensive game plans or defensive schemes?
I have a very fiery personality like my father and that kind of lends itself more toward defense, but at the same time I like the chess match on offense, When we’re on offense, I have to constantly tell myself, “Be calm. Be calm.” I like the chess match more though, I will say that.
Your team is in fifth place in the region behind Broadneck and South River, but you’re all very close. Do you think it will go down to the wire, and what’s going to be critical for your team to get one of those four playoff berths?
I’ve been telling the kids we don’t have any other thoughts than to win out. If we win out, we’re in third place. That’s what we’re banking on right now, but obviously, Broadneck and Severna Park are very good teams. If it comes down to a tiebreaker, it’s kind of a weird tiebreaker. It comes down to point differential among common opponents lost. I told the kids we’re in the driver’s seat. We control our own destiny. [To win out] I think offensively, we need to run the football the way we’ve been running it. Even though we’re spread out and we were throwing the ball a lot, now with the athletes and the size of line we have, we’ve gone to more of a University of Oregon-type run scheme which has been very effective. And defensively, we need to continue to stop the run. We’re very good at stopping the run and we need to force teams to the air, because that plays into what we have that a lot of other teams don’t in this county which is overall team athleticism.
What do you enjoy most about coaching high school football?
I enjoy the relationship with the players. I still get calls from guys I coached at Westlake and Parkdale and just seeing how they’re doing now. Some of the guys I coached at Westlake are 24 years old now or 25 and they weren’t that much younger than me at the time I coached them. It’s nice seeing them being successful, starting their own life and having careers and things like that.