Nick Holcomb continues to navigate uncharted territory weeks after his senior season with the UW-La Crosse football team concluded.
Holcomb, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver from Germantown, Wis., is one of four finalists for the 2017 Gagliardi Trophy — the award given to the most outstanding football player in NCAA Division III.
Records seemed to fall each time Holcomb stepped on the field this season for the Eagles, who went 8-2 to secure their first winning season since 2007. Holcomb set UW-L records for catches (80), receiving yards (1,401) and touchdown catches (20). The yards and TDs were also the most in Division III this season. He also set WIAC records for scoring catches in a game (five) and in a season.
“I keep saying this award is the most non-individual award there is,” Holcomb said on Tuesday. “I can’t do anything without a whole lot of other people doing their jobs, with the O-line and the quarterbacks and the other receivers.
“When it was my turn to do my job, I did it.”
UW-Oshkosh quarterback Brett Kasper, Wartburg quarterback Matt Sacia, and Springfield (Mass.) fullback Jordan Wilcox join Holcomb as finalists, and all four will be flown to Salem, Va., to partake in a banquet on Wednesday, Dec. 13, where the winner will be announced. The banquet kicks off the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl weekend in Salem, where the Division III championship game is played.
Holcomb said he flies out of La Crosse on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and then returns that Thursday after the banquet.
UW-L has had three other players — John Janke (1993), Craig Kusick (1995) and Scot Burnoski (2004) — be named finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, named after St. John’s University’s legendary coach John Gagliardi, who has the most wins (489) in college football history.
Eagles coach Mike Schmidt, who played for the Eagles in the mid- to late-2000s, said Holcomb’s accomplishments this season — especially setting the conference marks in such important statistical categories — stand out the most.
“This is the best conference in all of Division III, and for him to set records like this in this conference, it’s pretty monumental,” Schmidt said. “He had the greatest season at his position in this conference’s history.”
Along with his season-long production, Holcomb set single-game Eagles program records with 263 yards against Ripon College, five touchdowns against River Falls, and tied a record with 15 catches against UW-Oshkosh.
As he is wont to do, Holcomb gave the credit for his effectiveness to his offense and his teammates.
“I’m the last person to touch the ball on a play,” he said. “So if I score a touchdown, or make a play, it’s because everybody else did, too.”
Schmidt said Holcomb’s humility makes him an example for others.
“Nick’s uncomfortable when the attention’s on him. That’s what makes all this so fun to watch, because he’s so easy to root for. He’s always about the team and other people,” Schmidt said.
Holcomb’s production becomes even more remarkable when considering the challenges UW-L’s offense faced this season. Senior and returning starter at quarterback, Tarek Yaeggi, was injured midway through the year, so junior Drew David started the final four contests. The switch didn’t slow Holcomb’s pace a bit, as he scored a touchdown in every WIAC game and averaged 8.4 catches, 142.3 yards, and two touchdowns against conference opponents.
“We’d watch film, and it was almost hard to tell what made Nick stand out,” Yaeggi said. “He’s just so smooth, so natural, he almost floats when he runs. He just beats guys. He out works them. He’s got the most confidence in the world out on the field.”
Although his playing career is over, Holcomb said he believes he and the Eagles’ year is just the start for UW-L.
“This is an awesome accomplishment, it was a great season and a huge stepping stone for the program,” said Holcomb, who was also named to the d3footballcom All-West Region first team.