Heading into Friday’s Division II final against De La Salle at Cougar Stadium, St. Thomas More quarterback Caleb Holstein has thrown for 9,161 yards and 101 touchdowns, both of which are school records.
He’s completing 65.6% of his passes, the second most in program history behind Brandon Bergeron’s 66.9%, but Holstein has 104 more attempts than Bergeron. More impressively, only 22 of Holstein’s 934 passes have been intercepted.
But perhaps the most staggering aspect of it all is Holstein has tallied those numbers while being the full-time starter for only two years. He’s played in 38 games to this point, having appeared in every game of his sophomore year while splitting reps with senior Peyton Landy. But Holstein didn’t take over as the starter until midway through the 2017 season against rival Teurlings Catholic. Landry dealt with an injury for much of the latter half of the season.
“I wasn’t too nervous,” Holstein said of his first start against Teurlings. “I’m nervous for the first play or my first throw, but after that, I don’t want to come off the field.”
In fact, Holstein’s statistics could be even greater if not for the LHSAA’s postseason split between select and non-select schools, which decreases the number of playoff games select schools possibly play.
“When you look at the split, it took away probably two playoff games a year,” said STM offensive coordinator Shane Savoie, who quarterbacked the Cougars in 1994. “So you’re looking at another six games that he’s not getting as well that, when I played, we had those games.”
Nevertheless, most high school quarterbacks don’t come close to what Holstein has accomplished, but none of it really surprises the reigning Class 4A Outstanding Offensive Player. He might be the best passer to come through a program that’s produced several great ones, but even more than his natural ability and work ethic, Holstein believes things fell in place for him to be successful.
“I think he’s the best in our history,” Savoie said. “It’s hard-pressed to find another one. I think we’ve had others that are great game managers, others that were maybe more accurate but not as explosive of an arm. I think we’ve had others who were maybe better runners. But when you take a look at the whole package and what he’s been able to do, I think it would be hard-pressed to not put him at the top.”
Holstein points out his numbers, especially over the past two years, have as much to do with the talent around him as his ability. Receivers like Grant Arceneaux and Deion Senegal, who both finished with more than 1,000 yards as seniors, shined during the Cougars’ run to the Division II final last year. This year, it’s Luke Howard, the most productive tight end in school history, and Jack Bech, whose 1,482 yards are the most by an STM receiver in a single season.
“After guys like that started coming through,” said Holstein, who is committed to Havard, “I kind of figured stuff like that was going to happen.”
Still, Savoie said Holstein’s ability has further unlocked the vast potential of Cougars’ offensive system. In some ways, having the 6-foot-5, 210-pound gunslinger in the lineup has changed the way STM does things.
“It’s grown,” Savoie said. “I can think back to an Emile Joseph, followed by a William Bellamy, a Nate Cox. As those guys have come through, we’ve evolved more and more as to what we do and what we can put on our kids, especially our quarterbacks. He’s just the next step of that evolution, and I hope that there’s more to come. I hope that his legacy that he leaves on our program will propel us into something greater down the line."
Perhaps the biggest reason why Savoie can ask so much of Holstein is because he’s a true student of the game. It’s one thing to love football, but it’s another thing to watch it as much as Holstein does. Even beyond his physical skillset, Holstein's willingness to learn makes coaching him enjoyable, Savoie said.
“It makes all the hours we spent together over the last four years definitely worthwhile,” Savoie said, “and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Aside from film, Holstein watches both college and pro football religiously. He doesn’t like missing the marquee NFL games, especially the ones involving quality quarterbacks. His favorite team is the Indianapolis Colts.
“I love the Colts,” Holstein said. “It started with Peyton Manning, and then when they drafted Andrew Luck, I was all excited. I love Andrew Luck. Then sadly, he decided to retire. But I still love the Colts. I watch them all the time.”
“Their ball placement — where they place the ball in different scenarios,” Holstein said of what he watches for with NFL quarterbacks. “I like to think about was that a good ball placement, was it not. I think that really helps me.”
His dad, Scott, punted at LSU in the early 1990s, so Caleb roots for the Tigers. He’s enjoyed watching LSU’s probable Heisman Trophy winner under center this season.
“I love Joe Burrow,” Holstein said. “I’m a big Joe Burrow fan. I think he’s the best quarterback LSU’s had in a long, long time.
“How quick and easy he makes his decisions. His ball placement is crazy. He’s just really accurate. He’s a really tough guy. Just all around a great quarterback.”
Holstein will have his opportunity to sparkle on the next level like Burrow has, but for now his focus is on the matchup with the Cavaliers, a team that beat STM in the semifinals his sophomore year.
“I envisioned myself making big plays and winning a couple of state championships,” Holstein said. “I’ve got an opportunity to win one this week.”