He’s an occasional defensive back, a leading rusher and he long snaps with one hand, but D.H. Conley junior Holton Ahlers’ biggest talent is on display when he lines up behind center as one of the state’s most prolific quarterbacks.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior leads his Vikings – averaging 50.9 points per game – to Cardinal Gibbons (10-1, 5-1) in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
He has passed for 4,039 yards, 48 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also has a team-leading 760 yards rushing and 12 more scores on the ground, averaging almost 6 yards a carry. D.H. Conley (8-3, 5-1) won a share of the Eastern Carolina 4A/3A Conference title for the second consecutive season.
Ahlers’ role model – on and off the field – is Tim Tebow, a fellow lefty. Ahlers’ running style is reminiscent of Tebow, a player who was never anxious to slide or duck out of bounds.
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“Any college coach that asks me on fourth-and-goal with 4 yards to go, they say, ‘Do you want to pass it or run it?’ ” Ahlers said. “I would love to pass it, but I’m 6-foot-4, so I’ll run it. I’m not afraid of contact. I love running the ball just as much as I love throwing it.”
Ahlers, a four-star recruit, has already been offered by East Carolina, where he could spend his Saturdays barely six miles from where he currently plays on fall Friday nights at home. N.C. State has also offered.
He has visited North Carolina in addition to out-of-state programs such as Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Clemson and Mississippi State are also showing interest.
East Carolina offered Ahlers a scholarship during his freshman season at Conley, when the Vikings were running the wing-T under former coach Brian Paschal, and the Pirates were coached by Ruffin McNeill. Current ECU coach Scottie Montgomery and his staff made an offer to Ahlers before the conclusion of East Carolina’s 7-on-7 summer camp.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren and one of his assistants attended a Conley home game earlier this season, the night before the Wolfpack faced the Pirates in Greenville. The night before East Carolina’s game against Virginia Tech on the road, Montgomery stayed in Greenville to take in the D.H. Conley-J.H. Rose contest and quickly boarded a flight to coach the Pirates in Blacksburg, Va., for a noon kickoff.
Ahlers knows East Carolina well. His father, Morgan, is the PA announcer at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“That has a special place in my heart, just growing up here with him being so involved like that,” Holton Ahlers said. “That’s not going to affect my decision at all. If I go there, that would be truly amazing to hear your dad do (announce your name).”
He continued: “But it’s not going to affect my decision. I’m going to decide what helps me and my family the best.”
On Sept. 23, Ahlers threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns, and added another four rushing scores and 90 yards on the ground in a 77-67 loss to J.H. Rose – which set an NCHSAA single-game record for total points at the time.
Less than two weeks later, D.H. Conley was on the winning side of a game that broke that record.
The Vikings beat C.B. Aycock 83-68. Ahlers finished 19-for-31 passing for 506 yards and six touchdowns and added 112 yards and three scores on the ground on 13 carries.
Ahlers finished the regular season with eight games of 300 or more passing yards, and four of 400 or more. He had three passing touchdowns or more in all but one game, concluding the regular season with a season-high seven in a 70-37 victory over Southern Wayne. There were four games in which Ahlers combined for more than 500 yards passing and rushing.
In 2015, Ahlers passed for 2,457 yards and 27 touchdowns and added another 1,142 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing.
“He’s a great teammate,” Conley coach Nate Conner said. “The kids love him. It doesn’t matter what kid it is on the team, he gets along with everybody. The leadership and the competitiveness is what, I think, makes him so good. I think that’s what is going to make him a great player at the next level.”
Following an opening three-and-out against Rose, forcing Conley to punt, Ahlers – after launching one of those one-handed snaps – was the first player down the field to tackle the punt returner. In the Vikings’ 42-0 victory over Eastern Wayne, he lined up at defensive back on occasion, making a nice open-field tackle for a loss on one play. Against Southern Wayne, he was back in the defensive backfield and got a hand on an opposing pass. He is credited with six defensive tackles and an interception.
“He wants to be not just the best quarterback, but the best football player, the best athlete,” Conner said. “He’s just a special kid.”
By the numbers
▪ In a 77-67 loss to J.H. Rose, Ahlers was responsible for nine touchdowns. He threw for 491 yards and five scores through the air, and added another four touchdowns and 90 yards rushing.
▪ In a 83-68 victory over C.B. Aycock – setting the state record for total points by two teams in a single game – Ahlers again accounted for nine touchdowns, finishing 19-for-31 passing for 506 yards and six touchdowns and adding 112 yards and three scores on the ground on 13 carries.
▪ In the Vikings’ 44-7 victory over Washington earlier this season, he threw for 301 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another score.
▪ In a 45-32 win over West Carteret, he completed 24 of 36 passes for 387 yards and five touchdowns in addition to a rushing score and 84 yards on the ground.