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Lou Holtz Receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom ... from Donald Trump

Ex-college football coach Lou Holtz will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, the White House announced.

The award is recognized as the "Nation's highest civilian honor," according to the White House ... usually given to someone who has "made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public endeavors."

So, why Lou? Here's what Trump's team is saying ...

"American recognizes Lou Holtz as one of the greatest football coaches of all time for his unmatched accomplishments on the gridiron, but he is also a philanthropist, author and true American patriot.