David Holtsclaw played football for East Tennessee State with a toughness you would expect from someone nicknamed the “Hampton Hammer.”
After a record-setting career at Hampton High School, Holtsclaw served in the Marines where he played three years of military base football including two undefeated seasons for Camp LeJeune. One of his Marines coaches encouraged him to go to Penn State, but he instead came back home to ETSU, where he became a three-time All-Ohio Valley Conference selection and a Little All-American in 1964.
Although he led the Bucs in rushing three seasons, it was a kickoff return and a teammate’s game-winning field goal which he most remembers about his playing days with the Bucs.
“My first game, we went up to Murray, Kentucky and it was in the rain,” Holtsclaw said. “I was sitting on the bench, hadn’t been in the game and things weren’t going well. I ran a kickoff back pretty far and we got close to the goal line. A couple of plays later, I went in for a touchdown, but they called it back where a lineman had gotten offsides.
“It got to fourth down and our quarterback, “Wink” Baker, had never kicked a field goal in his life. It was in the rain and mud, “Wink” kicked that field goal and we won 3-0 (over Murray State). My first game, I felt I made a real contribution to the game.”
He made a real contribution his entire career. His style came after a tough upbringing, playing for Hampton coaches such as John Pansock, a former Army Captain in football, and Buck Van Huss, who was on his way to becoming the winningest basketball coach in Tennessee.
His high school exploits included a 303-yard rushing game against Jonesboro, a school record that stood for 55 years before Phillip Waters broke it in 2011. He rushed for 1,400 yards as a senior and became the Bulldogs’ first 1,000-yard rusher.
“I owe everything to Coach Pansock,” Holtsclaw said. “He was a super person. He was different, but boy he got us in shape. He didn’t tell us to go run. He told us, ‘Follow me.’ We ran all the way up to Dennis Cove. He had us all over those mountains getting us in shape.”
He also played on the Bulldogs’ state-tournament basketball team his senior season. Holtsclaw had four steals in a 2-3 minute span to help Hampton overcome an eight-point deficit and beat Rogersville in a regional tournament game. The Bulldogs went on to beat Dobyns-Bennett for the region title.
With his stint in the Marines making him more of a force, his battering style helped the Bucs go 7-3 and earned a share of the OVC championship in 1962. They finished 7-2 the following season. Holtsclaw felt he had a shot at the pros if not for a foot injury midway through his senior season. Another Hampton, military veteran and ETSU teammate, Robin Forbes, signed with the Cleveland Browns before a car accident ended his career.
Following his playing days, Holtsclaw coached high school football in Virginia and at David Crockett. He wasn’t expecting the induction into the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame all these years later.
“It shocked me in a way,” he said. “I figured if I had gotten in, it would have been sooner, that my time had passed. It was really surprising. I didn’t think that it was going to happen. I’m elated over it.”