The winner of Michael Irvin’s “4th and Long” stands 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighs a solid 216 pounds. He vaguely resembles Larry Fitzgerald, though I suppose it could just be the hair.
I meet him just after what was, judging by the amount of sweat caking his shirt, a grueling mid-July workout at Velocity Sports Performance in Dallas. The UNC product looks like anything but a reality television star at this moment. There are no cameras. There are no advertisements. There’s not even air conditioning.
As clichéd as it may be at this point, this is where the real work begins. Holley understands well that people may look at him differently in camp, and I quickly get the feeling that this knowledge fuels his preparation.
“Coming into camp, I fully expect people to look at me as just ‘the TV guy,’ or just as a guy who only made it here because of a TV show, coming to camp as sort of a gimmick,” Holley said, still breathing heavily from the workout. “I think I’ll put those whispers, or those yells, to bed pretty early. Just going out, working hard, letting people know that, yes, my route was different than yours, but none the less, I am a player.”
This is a route that includes, thus far, a two-sport college career and an NCAA basketball championship under Roy Williams at UNC in 2005, an experience that may aid him in his transition into the most scrutinized, most competitive atmosphere in professional football.
“Just being able to play on that stage and understand that rock star type of atmosphere for the Tarheels somewhat prepared me now for going to Dallas,” Holley said.
However, the 25 year-old has no misconceptions concerning the magnitude of the Dallas Cowboys as an entity.
“I’ve talked to Michael (Irvin) several times, and he constantly reminds me that nothing has prepared me for what I’m going to get myself into as far as the magnitude of how people love the Cowboys. How it’s America’s Team. How wherever you go, people recognize and know the star. I think I’m prepped for it a little bit, but when I get there it’s still going to take me some time to get used to it.”
Irvin, the creator of “4th and Long” and NFL Hall of Famer, has remained in close contact with Holley since the show wrapped in April, affording the training camp hopeful a wealth of knowledge on football and life in the NFL.
“Any question that I’ve had for him, he’s been more than happy to open up and answer it and say, 'Listen, this is what’s going on, this is what to expect. Try this, try that.' So he’s given me great advice for on and off the field.”
Emerging on top of “4th and Long,” Holley still has an uphill battle in front of him. This is a fact of which he is well aware; yet he remains positive, resigned to hard work and an open mind going into camp next week in San Antonio.
“My main focus is to work hard and help the group out,” Holley continued. “If getting on that 53 man roster means I got to pump air in the helmets with equipment managers, make water with the trainers, hold kicks, run down kickoffs, block a punt, whatever it is they need me to do until I can get my foot all the way in the door and really solidify myself as a dominant receiver, I’m willing to do.”
One gets the feeling that this statement isn’t hyperbolic, but a genuine sentiment from a man who seems to appreciate the journey as much as the destination.
As a shirtless Holley sits in the lobby of Velocity Sports, he speaks not of a story completed, but one just beginning; one which he hopes will have Dallas as its setting for a while.
“[The story] just keeps on going, and it keeps on going through Dallas,” he tells me. “I think this is where I belong. I belong in Dallas, with a star on my helmet, at Cowboys Stadium.”
“It’s been a dream come true getting here,” he continues. “But I don’t want to wake up yet.”