What can Alabama football expect from Eli Holstein’s QB signing in 2023?

Eli Holstein dropped to a third and six. He ticked off a read, then a second, then a third before charging his feet and bouncing a pass into the flats. On the opposing touchline, Lester Ricard Jr. was feeling confident.

“Oh, he’s off today,” thought Ricard, comparing his current game plan to the one that stunned Holstein a year earlier.

Only Holstein wasn’t there. Actually far from it. It was October 22, 2021, and Holstein completed 17 of 21 passes for a handful of touchdowns in a 48-32 win over Scotlandville (La.) High. He pulled passes down the middle, manipulated the pocket and escaped when needed. Holstein, who became Alabama football’s future quarterback Monday, began adding “consistency” to his resume in his sophomore year as a starter at Zachary (La.) High. Like many Louisiana high school coaches, Ricard saw the growth personally.

Holstein went 15-0 last fall and was named International Player of the Year by the state and MaxPreps. He notched 44 touchdowns on the Broncos’ spread offense, operating primarily with the gun but occasionally shifting his 6-foot-4, 222-pound frame under center. Ricard and other coaches at 5A Louisiana High School described Holstein to AL.com as a heavily armed, polished, and composed quarterback.

Originally sitting a year behind four-star and four-year starter Walker Howard (now at LSU), Holstein came from a football family. His older brother, Caleb Holstein, started over Howard before finding a collegiate home at Louisiana Tech. Holstein’s father, Scott, punted for the Tigers.

Ricard, Scotlandville’s head coach for two seasons, was preparing for the NFL combine with Scott Holstein after playing for then-LSU coach Nick Saban. Years later, the older Holsteiner boasted about his two sons to Ricard. Caleb Holstein, a later Jake Delhomme QB of the Year award winner, excelled for St. Thomas More (La.) Catholic. However, Ricard recalls that, as Scott Holstein mentioned, “the younger one” also had a bright future.

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“It’s been fun to watch him grow and also to agonize over,” Richard said, “… he doesn’t really have a lot of flaws. They knew he could always expand the field with his arm or his mind.”

The coaches praised his footwork and pre-snap reads. Zachary head coach David Brewerton likened it to having an extra coordinator on the field. If Holstein identified Cover 3, he would hit the out route in a three receiver set. He was able to look away from the fuse to reveal a suture route. And if forced to climb, Holstein wouldn’t shy away from dropping a shoulder into a tackler. Only a handful of teams kept the final score within two possessions last season, and only two, including Ricard, have beaten the eighth-ranked 247Sports Composite quarterback in high school.

In that contest — a 13-12 slog played in front of a few thousand at Southern University on Nov. 7, 2020 — Scotlandville used its trio of college-bound defenders to put pressure on Holstein. They repeatedly atrophied, Ricard said. Cornerbacks were also instructed to keep everything in front of them. Holstein trusted his arm and his decision making, so the defense worked to get him throwing quickly.

“He doesn’t always have to be this smart,” Brewerton said. “(Coaches) give me crazy looks when I say that. But what I mean is that because of his film work and preparation, Eli has so many things going through his mind when he reads before the snap that sometimes he thinks about some things. I’ll tell him, ‘Stop being so smart, it’s still an easy game, isn’t it?’”

Nick Saban, MacJones

Pundits have praised Holstein for his polished skills, calling him one of the more well-rounded, college-ready passers in the Class of 2023. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)AP

While he was one of the more polished signal callers in 2023, some coaches identified areas for improvement. Sometimes Holstein will work too fast and get off the paths before the defense can bite. He needs to work on his deep ball, which can sometimes have too much loft, allowing a defensive defender to skip the progression.

Many expect Holstein to continue his annual improvement as he did between his first and second seasons as a starter. National recruiting analyst Mike Farrell of MikeFarrellSports.com compared him to Ohio State’s sophomore Kyle McCord. On3’s Sam Spigelman saw a bit of Andrew Luck in Holstein’s style of play. Both Alabama and Zachary coaches have drawn parallels with Josh Allen.

Tim Walters, the defensive coordinator of Holstein’s national champion opponent Ponchatoula, thought he called the right blitz at the right time. Neither team was able to let the ball run later in the third quarter. Facing a second and tenth place finish in the Superdome, Walters watched the security rotate down on the weak side and flash and receive a free shot at Holstein. But with a sidestep and a duck, Holstein let go of the rusher, reloaded, and threw up a 50-yard shot that secured the title.

“(Holstein) will wait and see,” said Walters, who schemed in Ponchatoula’s spring 2021 game against Arch Manning. “He keeps his eyes on the field, what the good guys are doing. In terms of arm talent, intangibles, I would certainly put him on par with Arch. Probably a bit stronger physically.”

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Nick Alvarez is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or email him [email protected].

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