Photo: Bryce Holland
“I’d like to be an example for the future, but the truth is everyone here is an example. I wouldn’t change my decision to come here."
-- Army senior center Bryce Holland as a freshman in 2014.
By Tom Shanahan
Bryce Holland committed as a rare 3-star prospect to Army five years ago. What’s significant about that is most 3-stars choose schools that can groom them for an NFL career over a service academy with a five-year military commitment.
How rare was he at Army? In the Class of 2014, he was the Black Knights’ lone 3-star recruit. In fact, he was Army’s first commit on May 9, 2013 during his junior year at Chandler (Az.) Hamilton.
Simply put, Holland explained the NFL dream mattered less to him then than a West Point opportunity.
"It’s been a fun ride, that’s for sure,” he told me. “Just to see the guys on this team grow and see the culture developing has been amazing. There are so many guys that inspired me to work hard every day. That’s the biggest thing. We have so many guys that are all in. That’s why we’ve been successful. Everyone is committed to the same vision to win on Saturdays like we do.”
Holland is a third-year starter making his 35th consecutive start when Army (8-2) plays host to Colgate (9-0) in the Black Knights’ final home game of the season at noon Saturday at Michie Stadium. Only senior linebacker Kenneth Brinson has made more consecutive starts with 36.
True to his word, the 6-foot-2, 295-pound senior center has made an example of himself. He’s on the watch list for Rimington Trophy, presented to the nation’s top center, for the second straight year and is a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award.
He’s also one of three team captains along with fullback Darnell Woolfolk and linebacker Cole Christiansen. Woolfolk and Holland lead the team with nine “Ranger” jerseys that head coach Jeff Monken awards each week to players to wear in practice for “extraordinary effort.”
“He epitomizes the toughness and the grit that we like to be representative of this program,” Monken said. “When people look at Army football and say, ‘Coach, pick out a guy that you think really embodies everything that an Army football player is,’ certainly he’d be the one of the guys I’d point out. We’ve got others and I’m glad to be able to say that.
“He means a lot to our team and a lot to the offensive line. He’s a really a strong leader. I’m really proud of how he’s toughed through some injuries.”
Army was struggling when Holland committed under former Army coach Rich Ellerson, who was fired after a 3-9 season in 2013. Monken’s rebuilding task wasn’t overnight -- the Black Knights were 4-8 in 2014 and 2-10 in 2015 – but he inherited a key building block with Holland.
After Holland’s promising start in his freshman year, he missed 2015 with a knee injury. He needed a leave of absence for a semester to recover form surgery, which is why he returned in 2018 as essentially a redshirt senior in the vernacular of civilian schools. He graduates in December and begins his five-year military commitment as an officer.
But Army finally turned the corner during Monken’s third year that included Holland’s return in an 8-5 season in 2016 season. Most significantly, the Black Knights ended their 14-year losing streak to Navy.
Army followed that up with a 10-3 record in 2017, including sweeping Air Force and Navy to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 1996.
With Army having beaten Air Force on Nov. 3 this season, the Black Knights earned the right to retain the CiC no matter the result of the Army-Navy Game on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia, although the goal obviously is to win it for the second straight year.
That’s not to say Saturday’s game against Colgate doesn’t carry significance to the Black Knights. They can win their 13th straight home game that marks the final appearance at Michie for the seniors.
“The last home game means the world to me,” Holland said. “It closes another chapter of my life. I’m excited to go out there and strap on the equipment with these guys for the last time.
“We take pride in our home field advantage. People don’t come in here and win anymore. We’ve got great fans that are behind us and want to win in front of them.”
Holland’s career has seen an uptick in Army’s success as well as recruiting; he is no longer a rare 3-star commitment on the roster. Such prospects remain unique at Army, Navy and Air Force, but Army had two 3-stars in the Class of 2015 and one in 2016. Although there were none in the Class of 2017, five signed on in 2018 and so far four have verbally committed to date to the Class of 2019.
When recruiting unfolded for Holland, Army was his focus, but he since he played at an Arizona state power with seven state championships plenty of Power 5 recruiters to campus. In addition, on the O-line his senior year he played alongside Casey Tucker, who earned a scholarship to Stanford and is now a graduate transfer at Arizona State.
Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington of the Pac-12 strongly recruited Tucker and expressed interest in Holland prior to him ending the recruiting with his early commitment to Army.
The difference between them was Tucker is a 6-6, 315-pounder that fits the Power 5 prototype lineman profile. Holland’s 6-2 height limited his options, but Hamilton’s offensive line coach, Mark Tucker, told him not his opportunities to play at the next levels.
“What he has done at Army isn’t surprising,” Tucker said. “He has always been focused and dialed in.”
Tucker said he told Holland his physical stature and tenacity reminded him of Mark Stepnoski, a 6-2, 265-pound center on two Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl championship teams. He showed him some film of Stepnoski, who played 13 NFL seasons.
“Bryce didn’t pass the eyeball test at 6-2, but he’s a bulldog and he’s as strong as an ox ,” Tucker said. “He might have had a chance to get drafted or sign as a free agent if he went to another school, but his mind was set on Army. We played the same (triple-option) offense and he was perfect for Army.
Considering Holland’s success, it’s fair to wonder if he has had any reservations in his quiet moments, especially during his senior year, about passing on the financial rewards of an NFL future.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I made a commitment come here, to graduate and to become an officer in the United States Army. That’s what I’m doing.”
* * *
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055
Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."