Dimitri Holloway on the surface seems like the quiet veteran on the James Madison defense, but in reality, he's the FCS football version of a Silent Assassin.
Sure, he's been around. To be blunt, he's on his third head coach at JMU, and this is a program that wins … not that fires its coaches every two years. Holloway was there when Everett Withers had a shootout mentality in 2015 and lured ESPN's "College GameDay" to the JMU quad for the first time. He was there when the 2016 national title run happened. He was injured early in 2017 when it looked like the Dukes might have a shot at repeating as champs, and he was there in 2018 when the program took a few punches to the gut as a rebuilding program after two stellar seasons.
And he's here for the second season in a row as the leading tackler of an FCS powerhouse, wanting one last trip to Frisco — and this weekend's game against a tough Weber State team is all that stands between him doing that, and him being done with college football for his lifetime.
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So why is Holloway considered the "Silent Assassin" of the stout JMU defense? Well, maybe because stud defensive linemen John Daka and Ron'Dell Carter get so much national attention for being the bone-crushing lobster-claw style pinchers of the front line. They're the ones who were both mentioned prominently on the FCS Buck Buchanan Award ballot, given to the FCS nation's No. 1 defensive player. And defensive back Rashad Robinson has been a known name for so long, it almost makes one wonder if he and Dimitri are battling one another for the team's "best veteran" label.
Truth be told, they both fit that mold.
But Holloway has been the tackling machine of the past two seasons, piling up 238 stops when the next best guy (DB Adam Smith) is at 128. Holloway has been consistent. He has been ruthless. He has been relatively silent … and that's how DH likes things. After being a contributor way back in 2015, but losing a year in 2017 due to injury, he's just counting his blessings and glad to be in the position he is today. He lost 99 percent of his 2017 season due to injury after the East Carolina season-opening win, but he got it all back thanks to a medical redshirt hardship. Hey … he's been a Duke for half a decade and seen a few things in his tenure.
Reportedly, Holloway doesn't talk a whole lot, so like the scene in the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights when the character of "Ivory Christian" goes nuts at halftime after having never spoken up all year? Well, that may not totally sum up Holloway, but it's close. And again … reportedly … when DH speaks up, it's a show stopper and the room draws silent. As it should be. He's been around a while and seen some things at JMU. His colleagues in purple and gold apparently realize that.
"It's been a good ride; I've had some tough situations I've been through," Holloway told HERO Sports this week, leading into the semis. "It's like the defense is a funnel that helps things come to me, and some of the plays I make are out of instinct. That I'm in the right place at the right time and I'm fortunate to make the play. At the end of the day, I'm set up to make the tackles. I know at linebacker that's what I pride myself on, and you also get that help from those D-linemen up front who clear the holes up and protect myself to do my job? It's great."
Holloway comes from the football recruiting epicenter of the state of Virginia — the nationally-known Hampton Roads area. Nobody questions the talent that comes from this area. Maybe having Michael Vick and Allen Iverson come from the area enhances things and helps people understand. There is some serious talent in this neck of the woods. Holloway was groomed well, playing in intense prep football atmospheres and extremely tough competition in high school. It made transitioning to college a tad bit smoother than maybe it would for other recruits. He'd played in front of the madhouse crowds that loved him and hated him and his teammates, and he learned how to focus and keep his mouth shut. It made him a better man in the process.
"I'm not going to be the one that tells you to do something," Holloway said. "You have to learn to talk to people and learn how they want to hear it. You can't come in with a loud way when others might respond to a soft way. With some people, you have to get up underneath their skin, but there are lots of different people. You have to understand them."
That's today's leadership style … being able to read your teammates, as Holloway does. And push buttons in a good way. It's a skillset. Maybe of a future head coach type of skillset (hint hint)? That's what this relatively quiet but also vocal (when it is needed) quarterback of the JMU boa constrictor … errrrr …. defense operates.
"It's one of those things that us as a whole defense, everybody knows where we have to be to do our job," Holloway said. "We're supposed to handle our business like that. Everybody is clicking. You get out there and when it is close to the fourth quarter and we still have zeros on the board? You'd rather have a close game and not many points than some kind of shootout … We don't want them to cross the 50-yard line. Maybe in 2015? We felt like we just need to make one or two big stops so the offense can score. But we had the same players return in 2016 and we decided to change that mentality in how we approach the game."
So in 2019? There is a roster that has the experience of the 2015 to 2016 transition. Holloway brings that. Robinson also brings that, he was around then, as were others. Experience is a key factor with this 2019 JMU team.
But it all starts with the Silent Assassin. He has seen it all … but he patiently crafts his reaction to what he sees. And when he speaks … the others listen.
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