Shasta College pitcher and Foothill High grad Max Holtzclaw poses with his family after signing his National Letter of Intent to play baseball for Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho. (Contributed photo)
Three years ago, Max Holtzclaw’s baseball future was bleak.
An elbow injury resulted in Tommy John surgery for the then Foothill High pitcher. Even more rare, Holtzclaw’s tendon was so stretched out that it fractured his elbow in the process.
“It broke off part of the bone so they had to scrap the whole thing,” Holtzclaw said.
A successful senior campaign at Foothill was followed by a two-year career at Shasta College where he ended the 2019 regular season as the state’s leader in innings pitched. On Wednesday, Holtzclaw’s road to recovery was officially over when he signed a scholarship to continue playing baseball for Northwest Nazarene University, an NCAA Division II program in Nampa, Idaho.
“It’s been my dream for a long time to play (four-year) college baseball,” Holztclaw said. “When I had surgery, it seemed so far away.
“(The injury) set the tone for how I practiced and played knowing this game can be taken from you. It gave me a whole other love for the game.”
Holtzclaw went from questioning his career in the sport to being the workhorse for the Knights in his final season in green and white. He came out of the bullpen his freshman season, posting a 2-3 record with three saves, a 2.76 earned run average (ERA) with a team-best 20 appearances.
This spring, Shasta College coach Brad Rupert gave Holtzclaw the ball and let him do his thing.
He threw 96.1 innings – almost more than his senior year of high school (58.2) and freshman year of college (45.1) combined – while leading the state with four complete games to go with a 4.02 ERA and a team-best 63 strikeouts. His 2-8 record wasn’t an indicator of the type of pitcher or person he was — a guy who lives to play baseball, Knights coach Brad Rupert said.
“When I first met Max I was getting to know him and his family and he informed me that dad and brother liked to hunt and fish. I asked what he liked to hunt and Max’s response was ‘I don’t hunt it gets in the way of baseball.’ Right then I knew we would have a good relationship,” Rupert said.
It wasn’t only Holtzclaw’s persistence to return to the diamond that allowed him to reach to a four-year program. The desire to play the game that he loved and get to the next level drove him to excel.
“Max has transformed how Shasta College pitchers prepare,” Rupert said. “Physically and mentally he would challenge me to prepare our workouts better.”
Now he’s headed to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference as a Nighthawk. Northwest Nazarene is 24-23 this year, losing in the conference championship on Wednesday. For Holtzclaw, he chose NNU because of the track record of head coach Joe Schaefer, who went 341-217 at Point Loma Nazarene before coming to NNU in 2019. He reached the NCAA D-II national tournament two of the past three years and has had 16 players sign professional contracts.
“He has a track record of winning seasons and I talked to the pitching coach and we just matched up perfectly,” Holtzclaw said.
Holtzclaw plans on majoring in sports management under in the kinesiology program. He isn’t sure on the route he wants to go from being a general manager of a professional baseball team or a coach or baseball trainer.
“As long as it involves baseball somehow,” he said.