Former Columbia High School three-sport standout Jordan Holmes is excited about his sophomore season with the University of Illinois football team.
With two receptions for 23 yards and three punt returns for 10 yards in 10 games played last season as a walk-on freshman, Holmes has already accomplished more than most Monroe County football players could ever think possible.
“I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else,” Holmes told the Republic-Times in a Tuesday phone interview.
Just like his older brother Jonathan – who walked on at the University of Arkansas and played three seasons – the 6-foot-tall, 180-pound Holmes realizes he’s not the tallest, strongest or fastest player on his team.
But working hard every day and believing in yourself is hard to beat.
“I have to keep that confidence and belief in myself to succeed,” Holmes said, which is something he credits the coaches at CHS for instilling in him during high school.
Last season, Holmes made his first college reception and punt return during a Sept. 8 win at home over Western Illinois. His entire family, including Jonathan, was on hand to witness the accomplishment.
“It was something I could’ve only dreamed of,” Holmes said. “All the stars were aligned that night.”
Another highlight for Holmes last season was the team’s 55-31 win at home over Minnesota on Nov. 3.
“To get that Big 10 win at home in front of our fans, it was a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” he said. “I feel that was a step in the right direction for this program.”
Now entering his second season with the Illini, Holmes is on more solid footing with the ways of college athletics.
“The nerves are not there anymore,” he said. “This year I’m focused on trying to produce more on the field. I want to do everything I can to make them put me out there.”
Holmes said the program brought back Lou Hernandez as strength and conditioning coach. Hernandez, who spent the past seven season at North Carolina, helped the Illini win back-to-back bowl games in 2010 and 2011.
“He definitely amped it up,” Holmes said of Hernandez. “He got us bigger, faster, stronger. We need to take that to the field and show the world what we can do.”
Holmes definitely feels better about the team’s chances this season.
“We feel like we’re right there with everybody else and can compete in the Big 10,” Holmes said.
Holmes also talked about playing for head coach Lovie Smith.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches in football,” Holmes said. “He’s laid back, but knows what he wants on the football field. Being able to play for him, I never thought any of this would be possible.”
In addition to starring on the basketball court and baseball diamond at CHS, Holmes set several football records, including most receiving yards in a season (1,020), most career receiving yards (2,188), most touchdowns in a season (12), most career TDs (22) and most career receptions (149).
“He was an easy kid to coach. He always brought his best, every single day – no matter if it were practice or game,” Columbia head football coach Scott Horner said. “ He was a quiet leader. His actions spoke plenty loud. He always performed his best when the lights were the brightest. He was born for it.”
Horner is not surprised by any of Holmes’ success.
“I always thought he could play and knew his work ethic would certainly give him a chance,” he said.