As we continue our march to kickoff, we take a look at the top 100 recruits to sign with Auburn of all-time*. The rankings are based on 247’s composite recruit rankings, which unfortunately only date back to 2000.
Jeff Holland was a highly sought-after pass rusher in the 2015 recruiting class. With his size and speed combination, Holland was also a running back and played power forward for his high school team.
Holland, a tweener at defensive end or outside linebacker, was a part of the biggest story line in the 2015 recruiting class. Holland and three other top recruits from the state of Florida were reportedly going to be a package deal, which would net one lucky school the #2 (Martez Ivey), #3 (Byron Cowart), #7 (Cece Jefferson), and #122 (Holland) recruits in the country. Rumors abounded, even through signing day, about who was going to end up with this bundle of elite prospects, and by the end of the recruiting cycle, Auburn and Florida were the main finalists.
National Signing Day 2015 was a contentious one for Auburn and Florida fans. When Cowart announced early that morning that he was going to Auburn, it looked like Auburn would be the favorites for the whole foursome. Holland went on to commit about an hour later to Auburn, but drama unfolded as it came out Cowart’s NLI had not been faxed. I’m not sure if the true story ever fully came out, but my understanding is that Cowart’s coach at Armwood, Sean Callahan, wouldn’t send in Cowart’s fax and was pushing him to go to Florida. Later that morning, Martez Ivey would commit to Florida, seemingly ending the possibility of a package deal and putting Cowart’s commitment into question.
Cowart’s NLI finally came in for Auburn that afternoon, and Cece Jefferson committed to Florida, splitting the foursome into pairs at Auburn and Florida.
This article isn’t about Cowart, Jefferson, or Ivey, though. It’s about Jeff Holland, pass rush extraordinaire. Holland was used as a 3rd down pass rush specialists his first two seasons in Auburn. Holland played in 9 games a freshman, racking up 13 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. He essentially duplicated those efforts in 2016, forming a deadly combo with Carl Lawson at the buck position in Kevin Steele’s defense.
2017 saw Holland take off. He opened up the season destroying the Georgia Southern option offense to the tune of 5 tackles, 2 TFL, and a sack, and never looked back.
When Auburn went on the road in week 4 to Columbia, Missouri, Holland broke out a celebration after a pass breakup that endeared him to Auburn fans everywhere.
We found out later during the season that Holland and several other members of the Auburn defensive line had worked with a hand-to-hand combat specialist in the offseason. Holland embraced the lessons, and could be seen with teammates like Derrick Brown and Paul James III working on a their hand-to-hand skills during pregame warmups.
This, along with Holland’s huge 2017 season, caused him to adopt the nickname “Sensei Mud”. His play and his infectious personality made him the favorite players of many an Auburn fan.
Holland finished 2017 with 45 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles. He’s one of those players I could watch highlights of for hours, whether it was blowing up slow developing runs, beating a tackle off the edge and forcing a terrible throw by the quarterback, chasing down some of the best quarterbacks in the country (he ran down Lamar Jackson from across the field in both of their first games in college!), and of course his stacks of sacks.
Holland declared for the NFL Draft after the 2017 season as one of the best pass rushers in college football. However, his weaknesses in defending against the power run game shone through, and he went undrafted. He ended up signing a UDFA deal with the Broncos, which was not a bad thing at all as it meant he spent the 2018 campaign learning from Von Miller, possible THE best pass rusher in the NFL. Holland worked his way onto the roster at the end of the season, picking up six tackles in the last three games of the year. Holland will have a chance to step up and earn more playing time in 2019, as starting OLB Shaq Barrett left Denver in free agency. Only time will tell, but I think Sensei Mud is going to be making a name (and paycheck) for himself very soon.