The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 23, 2013

Ex-EHS gridiron standout goes from pursuing running backs to pursuing felons

By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

OKLAHOMA CITY — Former Enid High School and Eastern Michigan University football standout Daniel Holtzclaw always figured he would be wearing a uniform to work. However, Holtzclaw has traded in his cleats and helmet for a badge and a gun.

Holtzclaw, 26, who still shares the record at Enid with 25 tackles in a single game and ranks among its career leaders in tackles, finds himself patrolling the streets of Oklahoma City these days in the Springlake Division as an OKC police officer instead of patrolling gridiron defenses, and is enjoying running down the bad guys almost as much as he enjoyed running down opposing running backs.

“I’ve been in a couple of high-speed chases,” said Holtzclaw, who has been on the OKC police force for about a year now after obtaining his criminal justice degree from Eastern Michigan and completing training at the OKC police academy. “It’s been fun.”

Anybody who has followed the former linebacker’s career shouldn’t be surprised that he has taken to his new occupation as much intensity as he brought to the playing field that saw the 2005 EHS graduate go from being a Plainsmen to Division I Eastern Michigan on a football scholarship.  

And while opposing offenses are no longer feeling the brunt of Holtzclaw’s play, backyard fences and fleeing felons around Oklahoma City are now paying the price.

“There was a gang unit that was rolling (in the northeast part of Oklahoma City),” Holtzclaw said, describing what is his biggest chase to date. “It’s an area with high gang activity and they were attempting to make a stop on a car with a paper tag that had expired — a lot of those tags are easily stolen. I am patrolling in my car less than a block away when I heard the call and pulled in behind the car and the pursuit was on.

“It was a 10-minute chase ... the Air One helicopter was called in and eventually the driver bails.”

Then, in addition to his police training, Holtzclaw’s football mentality took over.

“This is when it was snowing a couple of weeks ago,” Holtzclaw said. “There is sleet and mud and the ground is really slick and the area is dark and it’s an area of town that’s not the greatest. I am chasing with my gun and flashlight out and he goes between houses. We knew this was a gang-banger and he probably had a gun.”

After pursuing the driver on foot into a yard, the suspect began to climb a fence. Holtzclaw decided to break through the fence, expecting it would hit the fleeing driver and knock him down. “It hit him, but it didn’t knock him over. So now we are going into the backyard of another house where he jumps another fence and I break through that one.”

Unfortunately, the driver got away, but ironically he was apprehended by Holtzclaw about a week later on a routine traffic stop without incident. “It was karma.”

Hearing Holtzclaw describe the foot chase brings back memories of his days at Eastern Michigan where, as a four-year starter, he menaced opposing offenses to the tune of 437 career tackles, which ranked third all-time in the Mid-American Conference and 11th in the NCAA when he graduated after the 2008 season.

Holtzclaw wound up at EMU after initially planning to be a “recruited walk-on” at Oklahoma. He was being recruited at OU by assistant coach Kevin Wilson, who now is the head coach at Indiana, but Holtzclaw quickly jumped at becoming an Eagle when EMU offered him a full scholarship and he headed to Ypsilanti, Mich.

He earned Freshman All-American honors in 2005 at EMU after registering 107 tackles and five interceptions. He would go on to earn All-MAC honors in 2007 after racking up 125 tackles. Entering his senior season he found himself on the Bronko Nagurski and Lombardi Award watch lists. After finishing his senior campaign with 107 tackles, he fully anticipated continuing his playing career, but it wasn’t to be.

It’s a subject Holtzclaw readily admits is a bit sensitive even to this day.

“Football dreams are hard to give up,” he said. “I understand it’s a business, but you play every day from the age of 9 and put time in and devote yourself to it. You understand you can get cut, but getting cut is still hard.”

After going undrafted, Holtzclaw was invited to Detroit Lions training camp, but was cut.

“It’s a matter of finding the right team,” he said. “They are looking for a specific type player that fits their needs.”

Holtzclaw later had an offer from a European team that was little more than a club level football team and spent some time briefly in camp with the Green Bay Blizzard, an indoor team that was underfunded and couldn’t afford to properly compensate its players.

“I went to Green Bay hoping to catch the eye of an NFL team,” he said. But when he saw their financial situation, he realized it was not a good fit and left.

The dream of playing in the NFL died hard.

“It’s still rough, but it’s easier now. I still will always have the mindset that I can play.”

 But Holtzclaw hopes his experiences can one day benefit a younger player.

“If I get the chance to mentor somebody, I would like that,” he said. “I’d still like to coach and if I can, influence a guy that wants to get a scholarship. When I was being recruited I didn’t get help from any coaches. Now, coaches really get involved and help you through the recruiting process and get noticed, but nobody was there to help me. I did it all on my own and did it the hard way.”

Doing things the easy way does not seem to be in Holtzclaw’s makeup and he doesn’t plan to take it easy in his law enforcement career.

“I like it because it’s not a behind-the-desk job,” Holtzclaw said. “It’s not the same routine every day. One day I am helping citizens and the next day you are in a foot chase or a high-speed pursuit. It’s what you make of it. You can be a stereotypical cop or find felons and drugs.”

Holtzclaw, whose father is a lieutenant in the Enid Police Dept., said he wants to get into the OKC police gang squad and onto its “Impact” unit that serves search warrants. He has been on a couple of search warrant details “where you knock and go in screaming” and liked the high-intensity nature of it, even if it meant feeling grateful afterward that the AK-47 found on the other side of the door was not put to use.

“The gang unit reminds me most of playing football,” Holtzclaw said. It reminds me of that adrenaline rush. You are going, going ... chasing bad guys.”

OKC residents may be well-advised to reinforce their fences.