Two years ago, when Wilde Lake High’s football team played at M & T Bank Stadium in the Class 3A state title game against Westlake, Matt Holdefer watched the contest from the stands.
It wasn’t because he was a part of the junior varsity team and not yet on the senior squad, it was because Matt was a member of the school’s marching band and watched the game as just a fan.
“I remember the game was just really disappointing because [Westlake running back] Devon Smith ran back a punt return. It was sort of deflating. Going home empty handed didn’t feel good.”
Holdefer could only dream of what it would be like to play on the field of a NFL stadium.
On Thursday night, when he and his Wildecat teammates ran out of the tunnel onto the field at Ravens Stadium to face Franklin in the 3A championship, his dream came true.
“It was really big [inside of the stadium]. That’s what I really remember. I just looked up and thought, people do this as their job,” said Holdefer, who predicted the Ravens would knock off rival Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“I watched the Ravens game last week and I remember Todd Heap caught a touchdown. I thought, I’m going to be warming up in that end zone. I’ll be blocking people and we’ll score in that end zone on Thursday.”
Matt, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound offensive lineman, was not allowed to play organized football until last season, his junior year. Growing up, he was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter syndrome, which is a condition that makes the bones in the knee grow faster than the tendons. In sixth grade, he grew nine inches in one year and battled growing pains.
Because of the daily discomfort that it caused, Matt’s mother Renee would not allow him to play football.
“He had a lot of pain during middle school when he played sports; he’s been a year-round athlete,” she said of complications from the condition. “We would have to ice him down and it was hard to watch him in pain. I was told it would make him more susceptible [to breaking bones].”
“I had wanted to play football forever except my mom didn’t let me play because she thought I was too small and would get broken in half,” Holdefer said with a smile. “Eventually, I just got my dad to sign the papers and she didn’t want a part in it. Now, she wants it.”
In the summer of 2009, Matt began to workout with coaches on the football team. With no previous experience or training in the sport, it would be tough for the accomplished baseball player to make the transition to football.
But he did. Holdefer came on as a third-string lineman, then, he moved to second on the depth chart for the Wildecats, who lost in the Class 3A East Region semifinals a season ago.
“I remember going out and I didn’t even know how to get in a three-point stance,” Holdefer admitted. “The coaches didn’t know what to do with me. They thought, ‘should he play wide receiver? Should he be a tight end?’ Eventually, I said just put me wherever I can get playing time.”
“As a junior, he worked incredibly hard to learn the game each and every day,” said Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison. “Coaches Fredericks and Burke spent hours with him teaching him the fundamentals, which he picked up with such ease. By the end of the season, he was splitting time as our left offensive tackle.”
This year, the senior from Columbia broke the starting lineup at the left tackle position and never looked back. Wilde Lake’s offense, the wing-T, has one simple goal. The ‘Cats just lineup, push the opposition off the ball and run it all the way to the end zone. Matt credits assistant coach Shawn Fredericks for teaching him “everything he knows.”
Holdefer and offensive linemates including Teka Hayes and Eric Handy, helped the Wildecats rushing attack run for over 3,500 yards on the season. That is an average of around 240 yards per game on the ground.
“This year, his play was critical to our success on the line,” Harrison said. “He played next to Eric Handy, our sophomore guard, all season and their partnership was amazing. At times, I had to remind myself that Matt was only in his second year of football. He picked up on blocking schemes so quickly you would have thought he had played since he was 8.”
“I was really nervous last year but he didn’t play too much and when he did, I was a wreck,” Renee said. “This year, I really watched him grow. I didn’t know just how much he wanted it and he really wanted it. He worked so hard learning everything and I watched him grow from that first season when he would get up from a play and go, ‘what do I do now? Where do I go?”
“To see him grow, not only in his skills but he’s grown so much more than just football. The coaches have taught him a lot more about life and what it’s like to be a standup guy.”
All the hard work paid off for Matt and the Wildecats, who jumped out to an 21-7 lead and held on for a 21-14 victory over Franklin to claim the 2010 3A state crown.
“I didn’t think it was real at first,” he said about winning the title. “The last play of the game, I thought that they would have some time left, we would have to punt the ball and they would have a chance to return it. I was really nervous.”
He added: “I looked up at the clock and it said 19 seconds. Then I looked at the play clock and it said 25 seconds. It was at that moment when I thought, ‘no way’. It was pure joy.”