Tech's Holton makes strong bid at safety

Thomasville can, and does, claim Georgia Tech safety Fred Holton. However, the city of 18,000, located less than 15 miles from the Florida border, has few social outlets. These two facts are not unrelated.

"Where I'm from, it's kind of boring," Holton said, "so all you did was work out."

As he lounged in a leather chair in the lobby of Tech's Edge Athletic Center last week, Holton recalled summers spent flipping over tractor tires at the Thomasville High practice field.

"Whenever somebody got bored, you'd call up a teammate and [say], ‘Hey, bro, what are you doing? Let's go work out,'" he said.

If his physique is any judge, Holton got bored a lot. Yellow Jackets strength and conditioning coach Neal Peduzzi rates him "ridiculously strong" and deems him one of the strongest players, pound for pound, on the team. Holton's power contributes to his candidacy to start at one of the safety spots this fall.

"He brings a physical presence back there," Tech secondary coach Charles Kelly said. "He's a high-contact player."

As a true freshman just past his 19th birthday, Holton broke the team's power clean record for defensive backs with a lift of 335 pounds this past February. Holton, 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, could break it again this week when the team conducts testing. In an offseason when Jackets players have sought to eliminate the complacency that doomed the 2010 season, Holton's commitment to his physical development isn't a bad template.

"He's usually one of the first guys in the weight room, one of the last to leave," linebacker Steven Sylvester said. "Fred's a quiet kid. To see him come in the weight room and do what he does, it's amazing."

Holton learned his habits in Thomasville. He played for a coach, Richie Marsh, who made players run dragging a tire behind them if they were brought down by a solo tackle in games. Holton and some of his teammates took it another step.

"Just crazy things like backpedaling up hills," he said. "We'd think of stuff to do. That's how boring it was. But eventually it paid off."

The drive and physical strength were evident early.

In YMCA football games, his mother Gwen Williams said, "He was running that ball, four or five kids would get on him and he'd still be going."

Tech's coaches saw it almost as soon as he began fall practice as a true freshman. His speed, hitting power and playmaking instinct gained him notice in preseason scrimmages and placed him on multiple special teams units. He was one of three true freshmen to play in every game last year. In Tech's loss to Georgia, his punishing hit produced a forced fumble of punt returner Branden Smith.

"Playing special teams as early as he did, he started learning, ‘OK, this is how we play in this league,'" Kelly said. "That definitely helped him."

To beat out either Rashaad Reid or Isiaiah Johnson, who ended spring practice as the starting safeties, Holton will need to improve in two areas: his man-to-man coverage skills and his understanding of defensive coordinator Al Groh's scheme.

"At that safety position, the first thing you've got to be able to do is communicate and get people lined up," Kelly said.

Until he gets that chance to compete, Holton will continue his routine of rising at 5 a.m. to make Peduzzi's 6 a.m. sessions.

"I don't look forward to it, but I don't have any problem doing it," he said. "I know it's going to get me where I want to be."