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Fullback Holt Is More Than Just a Blocker

November 13, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

When Leroy Holt came to USC, he had his eyes wide open and his shoulders hunched. He was going to work.

"I had set my mind that I was going to block, block, block," the USC fullback said. "I knew that there was no way they were going to change the system for me. I was going to block all the time."

Holt is doing plenty of blocking, in the best traditions of a USC fullback, but he's also carrying the ball, which has been a pleasant surprise for him.

After nine games, the redshirt sophomore is USC's second-leading ground-gainer with 374 yards, a 3.9 average, in 95 carries.

Considering that Todd Steele and Holt had 92 carries between them for the entire 1986 season, it's no wonder that Holt is smiling.

"It's a thrill to do it. It's a dream," he said. "There was always something in my mind that I could show them that I could run, but I didn't think I'd do it."

Holt was a running fullback, one of the best in the City, at Banning High School. He gained 1,200 yards as a senior in 1984 while leading his team to the City title.

He said, though, that he seldom blocked. So, he has worked on his blocking techniques every summer, even dragging dummies to a park under the supervision of his father, the senior Leroy.

Holt said his father was a star fullback at Pickett High School in Brenham, Tex., where he was known as the little giant.

"He didn't go on to college, so he's playing his college career through me," Holt said. "Everything I do, it's as if he's playing. I'm happy to make him satisfied."

With his imposing credentials from high school, Holt had the option of going to a university that would utilize his running talent.

"I was recruited hard by Oklahoma and I was also recruited by Nebraska, UCLA, Arizona State and Kansas," Holt said. "But when I came to USC on a recruiting visit, I knew I'd go here. I liked the tradition and I always admired Sam Cunningham. In fact, I'm wearing his number now."

So number 39 is active again. Cunningham, known as Sam Bam during his playing days at USC, is renowned for his four over-the-top touchdowns against Ohio State in the 1973 Rose Bowl game.

Even so, Cunningham was used more extensively as a blocker. He had 102 carries for 349 yards on USC's 1972 national championship team.

There have been some exceptions, though, to the grunge role of the USC fullback. Marcus Allen, for instance, gained 649 yards in 114 carries in 1979, and Lynn Cain accumulated 977 yards in 187 carries in 1978.

There was almost one compelling reason for Holt to have chosen Oklahoma, his friend Jamelle Holieway.

They were teammates at Banning and have been close friends since they played on opposing teams in a Pop Warner League. Holieway was an acclaimed quarterback at Oklahoma until he suffered a knee injury last Saturday against Oklahoma State. He had surgery Sunday and is lost for the season.

"I called Jamelle Saturday night after his injury and, believe it or not, he wasn't down," Holt said. "He is disappointed to miss the Nebraska game, but he said that if he's able to come home, he'll be here to give me support for the USC-UCLA game (Nov. 21)."

That could be a Rose Bowl showdown game if the Trojans beat Arizona Saturday at the Coliseum.

"The Rose Bowl is always in the back of our mind, and when you think of UCLA, you think of the Rose Bowl," Holt said. "There's no way you can look around UCLA. I'd be lying if I told you different, but we know we have to focus on Arizona. That's the team we have to beat to get to UCLA and go to the Rose Bowl."

Holt and Holieway worked out together last summer, with their fathers joining in. Holt is also a close friend of suspended USC tailback Aaron Emanuel, who was sentenced to some weekends in jail last month on a misdemeanor battery charge involving Sharon Hatfield, a former USC heptathlete.

"Aaron comes here every once in a while to visit some of the guys," Holt said. "He's taking a few classes at Santa Monica City College to be eligible next semester. From talking to him, he's leaning toward returning to USC, but I don't really know."

Holt, solidly built at 6 feet and 215 pounds, is gratified that he fits into USC's offensive scheme as a running back at times.

Last Saturday, against Stanford, he was used in a different manner. He teamed with quarterback Rodney Peete on a 39-yard touchdown pass play. It was only his fifth reception of the year and by far his longest.

"The other catches were little six-yard dumps," Holt said. "The pass in the Stanford game was also a six-yard curl. But Peete got in trouble and scrambled, and I rolled with him. He hit me about 10 yards downfield."

Then, Holt hit Stanford cornerback Alan Grant, literally running over him.

"It was going to be my first touchdown of the year," Holt said. "So I gave him a shoulder and spin move, and there was no one in front of me."

The Trojans (6-3) have become more consistent while closing out their schedule at home, but Holt knows Arizona could spoil USC's season.

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