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Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Raw 2014 DT shows strength in adversity

By Derek Tyson

Sometimes it takes a few years for high school prospects to be discovered by major college football programs, but for Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln junior defensive tackle Thomas Holley, it took only eight games.

Holley began his high school career playing basketball at national powerhouse Christ the King in Middle Village, N.Y., but when he began to fill in to his 6-foot-4 frame, he realized his future might be in another sport.

At 290 pounds, Holley decided to transfer to Lincoln, the same school that produced Notre Dame linebacker Ishaq Williams and former Cal and Florida wide receiver Nyan Boateng.

After sitting out the first five games of his junior season because of transfer rules, Holley played the final eight games. He would have had one more chance to show off his skills, but Lincoln’s last game of the regular season was called off because the school was devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

Thomas Holley
ESPN 300 DT Thomas Holley committed to Penn State on Monday. He chose the Nittany Lions over Florida.
"We're right in Coney Island, so we got hit really hard," Lincoln coach Shawn O'Connor said. "They canceled our last game. Our field, which is only 3 years old, was under 3 feet of water. The first week of the playoffs we couldn't even practice on the field, we had to practice in the gym.”

O'Connor said he saw enough in eight games to realize Holley was a legitimate talent.

“We've had some big-time players, but Thomas is a little different because he's never played before," O'Connor said. "But he's very competitive and I think he realizes where his future lies with football. He's very strong, he's very athletic for his size. He's very coachable.”

Holley, who bench-presses 325 pounds, said football has been a big adjustment, but he likes the challenge of playing a new sport.

"It's different," Holley said. "It's been a lot of hard work, but I've really enjoyed it so far. I'm looking forward to next year and looking forward to things to come in my future. But it means that I have a future in this sport and this will be my bread and butter. It means I will have to work hard to learn the game and get even better. I want to make sure that whatever school I do go to that they know they didn't waste their time with me."

After O'Connor made some phone calls and sent film to several colleges, the offers started to pour in. Florida State, Miami (Fla.), UConn, Syracuse, Boston College, UMass, Rutgers and Florida have all offered the talented but inexperienced lineman.

"He's very raw, obviously, because he just started playing the game. I don't see him making the same mistakes," O'Connor said. "He works on his errors and corrects them. He has a high motor and with his size and flexibility he's going to become an even better football player. He has a very high ceiling. He doesn't just want to outmuscle people; he wants to learn the technique and learn about the game as well."

Holley plans to attend several camps over the spring and summer to try to speed up the learning curve. Despite his many offers, he said he is in no rush to narrow his list of favorite schools.

"I'm an open book right now," Holley said. "I'm just going to take whatever comes. All of this is happening so fast, so I'm not going to force the issue. Whatever schools come, I'll just be happy to talk to them."

Training for Holley this offseason might not be easy. The athletic facilities at Lincoln were also damaged in the fierce October storm.

“We got hit in the locker room area, too. A lot of kids lost practice pants, cleats, socks; we lost video equipment,” O’Connor said. “We have a brand-new weight room that was supposed to be completed in February that is 6 feet under water. So now we're doing our offseason workouts in classrooms because our weight room has been destroyed."

Holley, however, has tried taking a positive approach to the situation.

"There has been a lot of bonding between the players," he said. "I have a great connection with a lot of players on my team. We've become very close. Even though Sandy hit us, and we got hit hard, we still found a way to make practice happen and we stayed close and made sure we did what we had to do. We aren't going to let anything hold us back. We took what was given and turned it into something positive."