There were many appreciative words thrown in longtime Mount Airy head football coach Kelly Holder’s direction when he announced Friday that he was stepping down after 19 seasons.
Perhaps none had greater appreciation for his contribution to Mount Airy football — and for building character in young men — than his son Ian, who exactly one week before had signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Morehead State University after a stellar career playing for his father.
“I feel like growing as a player and as a person under him means more to me than winning games, to be honest,” said Ian, who earned All-Northwest 1A Conference honors at multiple positions during his three full varsity seasons with the Granite Bears.
“I think my teammates would say he was harder on me than anybody else. It was alright, it was fine by me. If I did something wrong, I not only had to hear it during the game, but also had to hear it at home. But having him as a coach was very enjoyable and I am very grateful for that.”
Starting at quarterback for all 15 games of the 2017 season, Holder performed brilliantly, completing 109 of 151 passes (72.1 percent) for 2,017 yards with 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also ran for 1,042 yards and 13 more scores, and intercepted five passes as a defensive back. Ultimately, both father and son ended their careers with the Granite Bears by playing for the 1AA state championship at Carter-Finley Stadium last December.
Having established during his career at Mount Airy that he could play several different positions on the field, a number of college football programs expressed interest in Ian Holder. He was guaranteed a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on at three nearby Division I FBS teams, but eventually decided on Morehead State, an D-1 FCS program in Kentucky.
”I had a few PWO’s from Wake Forest, East Carolina and App State. This was before Morehead State, and I didn’t know what to do,” he recalled. “Then Morehead State called, and I went down there. The recruiting visit went well, and it just felt like the best opportunity for me to prove myself.”
Morehead State, although an FCS program, recruits nationally and has ties to the region through assistant coach Dovonte Edwards, a former NFL player and high school coach who played college football at N.C. State. The school also plays a high-octane spread offense and throws the ball a lot, which was attractive to Ian, whose favorite position is slot receiver.
“It felt like the best opportunity to play right away, and I liked the coaching staff,” he said.
He’ll probably end up in the same type of “jack of all trades” role that he played in high school.
“First, they recruited me as a running back, and then more and more in the recruiting process, they told me I would play just about everywhere,” Ian Holder said. “I’d play slot, running back, two-back, and they noticed that I could play corner, too. So basically, an all-purpose back type of player. This is really fun and exciting to be, because I like to do all of that.”
Morehead State is perhaps most famous in football for the fact that former Super Bowl MVP and NFL All-Pro quarterback Phil Simms played there, but Ian probably won’t be following in Simms’ footsteps.
“Quarterback is fun, and if the team needed it, I didn’t mind doing it, but if I had a choice, I’d definitely pick slot receiver,” he said.
He spent the latter part of his sophomore and nearly all of his junior seasons in the slot receiver/defensive back roles. After an 8-5 season with a trip to the second round of the playoffs in 2015, the Bears went 13-2 and reached the West Regional final in Ian’s junior season. He started just one game at quarterback, guiding Mount Airy to a win over West Stokes, but snagged 40 passes for 656 yards and 10 touchdowns as a receiver, ran the ball 51 times for 474 yards and eight scores, and also scored once in the kick-return game.
The only real disappointment was coming up short in the regional final to West Montgomery. However, the returning seniors vowed to make 2017 a special season.
“We knew coming into my senior season that we had lost a lot of firepower, but if we worked hard, we knew we could get the job done,” he said. “A lot us had that bad taste in our mouths, and we knew what it was like to lose and didn’t want to feel that feeling again.”
With Ian back behind center, the Bears were 13-0 when they returned to the West Regional final and had to beat reigning 1A state champion Murphy to get to the state championship game. He rushed for a season-high 151 yards as Mount Airy won 49-35.
“The most enjoyable (win) was beating Murphy this year at home to get to play for the state title,” he said. “There were probably a ton of people in Surry County who thought we were going to lose. But we knew we could win, we knew what we could do. We just followed our game plan and we ended up with probably my most memorable moment here.”
The Holders ended their time at MAHS with a loss in the state finals to a powerful Tarboro team, but with a few months behind them now, can appreciate all they achieved before facing the most statistically dominant 1A team in a decade.
“Going there was an experience in its own world,” Ian said. “Being on TV, even though we couldn’t get the job done, was special.”
He will major in pre-vet at Morehead, and said their strong program was another reason he chose the Eagles. Given his history, one has to ask if maybe someday he might choose to follow in his dad’s footsteps, but Ian said that wasn’t on his agenda right now.
“I don’t see myself coaching, to be honest, but you never know.” he said.