In some respects it’s not surprising Darius Holmes ignited the entire defense as a freshman corner at Tuskegee in 2015. Nor is it headline news this fall that he’s picked up where he left off a year ago. Pass defense is more-or-less innate for Holmes, right down to his bones. A big reason for that: His father, Darryl, played in the NFL.
“We call DNA a ‘buzz word,’ around here,” says Tuskegee cornerbacks coach Ramone Nickerson, who notes that five members of the current Golden Tigers roster have fathers with NFL affiliations. “The DNA is there with Darius. He’s a great talent whose work ethic carries over into our entire program. A lot of it comes from where he comes from. Fundamentals and hard work. He’s a mature kid who’s not interested in laughing and playing around. He’s one of the guys I can trust.”
Darryl Holmes was a reliable defensive back for the New England Patriots back in the late 1980s. He spent three seasons in New England from 1987-89 and played in 44 of a possible 47 games. Each of those snaps came for a secondary that already featured two All-Pro standouts in Raymond Clayborn and Ronnie Lippett.
The younger Holmes doesn’t deny his dad’s past is a part of his own success. “There’s no harder coach than your pops,” he said. But Holmes has carved out a reputation of his own. As a freshman, he coined the locker room phrase ‘I like me,’ which gained widespread popularity among his teammates. The sophomore is all-too-eager to explain the slogan’s meaning.
“It’s about whenever that doubt creeps into your mind and you question whether you can get the job done on a particular play,” said the 20-year-old, who spent his first collegiate season as a redshirt freshman at Alabama State University before heading 38 miles east to become a Golden Tiger. “If you let it, self-doubt will impact your play. So I thought to myself: ‘Whoever is in front of me (on the opposing team), I like me.’ I like my chances.”
Holmes provided an unexpected spark last season, earning co-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors. He also received BOXTOROW National Defensive Player of the Week recognition after a win over Morehouse, which, along with his 27 tackles and three interceptions on the season, precipitated his inclusion on the 2016 Preseason All-SIAC Second Team.
|Darius Holmes||DB||SO||Darryl Holmes||Patriots|
|Kenneth Dickerson||OL||SR||Ken Dickerson||Dolphins|
|Mercury Hayes||WR||FR||Mercury Hayes, Sr.||Saints|
|Nicholas Pope||QB||SR||Marquez Pope||Raiders, 49ers, Browns|
|Kenny Gant||RB||FR||Kenny Gant, Sr.||Cowboys, Buccaneers|
All in all, college football has been a surprisingly smooth landing for Holmes, a product of Northside High in Warner Robbins, Georgia. Transitioning from one collegiate program to another can be a difficult in terms of assimilation, leaving behind the previous football culture and learning a new playbook.
“Honestly, I was so determined to help the team, I learned the playbook in about a week,” says Holmes, who acknowledges that his lifelong football pedigree might have reduced his learning curve. “The players here welcomed me like a little brother. I came in with confidence and it showed in my play. Last year, I relied on my savvy (in terms of being) tough to read as far as my (pre-snap) intentions. I just tried to play fast and use my speed to stay off blocks in the slot.”
In 2016, however, the bar has been raised.
“Now, I have to back last year up and play a leadership role,” says Holmes. “My goal is to be consistent every down and still perform in those possessions when your mind gets fatigued late in a game.”
The stars seem well-aligned for Holmes, both from an individual and team perspective. After a 28-18 win over Albany State Saturday, the Golden Tigers (2-0) are at No. 27 in the D2 Football Rankings. Tuskegee finished 10-3 in 2015, reaching the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs and finishing No. 11 in final AFCA poll. Not to mention, the program boasts one of the most loyal fan bases in D2 football.
Meanwhile, Holmes’ growth as a player and person marches on. He snared his first interception of the year in the fourth-quarter of last week’s season-opener to seal a 36-13 win over Clark Atlanta.
“My redshirt year at ASU was tough (the Hornets went 6-5 in 2014),” says Holmes, whose high school team went 51-5 during his four years on campus and won a state championship his senior year. “I wasn’t used to losing. It was a reality check. But it helps you grow and realize not every game is going to go your way. It’s just great to be part of a winning program at Tuskegee.”
Photo Courtesy: Tuskegee Athletics