When Andre Holmes ’11 started playing football, he had no idea that his career would lead him to the NFL.
But in the last six months the Hillsdale College record holder for receptions and receiving yards has played for two NFL teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. Since it is the offseason for any team not playing in the Super Bowl, Holmes is now back on campus to finish his degree.
Holmes left Hillsdale in early 2011 without graduating to prepare for the NFL draft. He wasn’t drafted and was left waiting until the lockout was resolved before he could find a team to sign with.
On July 25 he signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
“The Vikings and Cowboys were kind of fighting to pick me up,” Holmes said. “I ended up picking the Vikings.”
After training camp, the Vikings wanted him for their practice squad, but he decided to join the Cowboys for the regular season.
“I thought it would be a better situation for me,” Holmes said. “I’m very happy with the Cowboys.”
Originally dreaming of going to the National Basketball Association, Holmes did not start playing football until high school.
“My dad always thought football was too dangerous for kids to play right away,” said Holmes.
In addition to basketball, Holmes has also had experience with soccer and track. It was only when he started getting faster and stronger that football became a reality.
“He was a guy that we looked at on tape and saw that he was a big framed kid,” said Keith Otterbein, head Hillsdale football coach. “[Holmes] ran pretty decent but didn’t exactly come in and blow our socks off when it came to the times that he was running.
“But the potential was there.”
Holmes’ height and frame make him a standout player. At 6 feet 4 inches, his long arms and legs give him a big height advantage over opposing cornerbacks.
“The only scholarship I got out of high school was to Hillsdale for football. That’s when my focus shifted — my senior year — to football,”
The only scholarship he received in high school was to play football for Hillsdale. When he got that scholarship his senior year, Holmes said his focus shifted to football.
“When I was getting recruited, I really wanted to go Division I because I figured that would be my best shot [to play in the NFL],” he said. “But, obviously, it was the best decision of my life to come here.”
When Holmes visited Hillsdale, he was impressed by the team.
“I saw that the team was close-knit when I came on my visit,” he said. “I could see that when I sat down with the players.”
Holmes said making friends on the team was easy.
“A lot of my friends that I met freshman year, I can’t even remember the exact time when I became friends with them. It just happened after like a week of training camp. Everyone is on the same wavelength,” said Holmes, “You work together and become friends that way.”
Holmes said coach Barry Fagan, offensive coordinator at Hillsdale from 2002 to 2010, had the most impact on him entering the NFL.
The entire team filled out goal sheets. One of the questions asked what the team member’s future goals were in terms of football. Holmes initially left this question blank. In a later meeting, Fagan told Holmes that if he kept working hard, there was a chance he could go pro.
Otterbein said Holmes has terrific work ethic and described him as an “unselfish” athlete.
“He wanted to be involved in the special teams if it was going to help us win, wanted to be involved with offense if it was going to help us win,” Otterbein said. “He would have played defense if it would have helped us win.”
He is remembered fondly by teammates and coaches alike.
“He was an extremely hard worker,” said senior Mike Blanchard who played wide receiver alongside Holmes. “He always seemed to ask the right question and always seemed to work problems out and just be on the same page with Coach as much as possible,”
Otterbein said Holmes’ problem solving was a big selling point for the NFL teams.
“I think that he always was accountable for his own actions,” Otterbein said. “When mistakes were made and he had set backs, he figured out a way to resolve them and he had the ability to move on and move forward with what he was doing.”
Blanchard said Holmes’ determination was praiseworthy.
“He’s definitely very deserving. He worked in the offseason, continuing right after the season. He’s doing great things, and as long as he can stay healthy, I think he’ll continue to be looked at in the league,” said Blanchard.
Holmes has now returned to Hillsdale’s campus and hopes to finish his physical education degree.
“I struggled a lot throughout my time here. That’s part of the reason why I’m back this semester, to take a couple credits and finally get my diploma,” he said.
Between seasons, Holmes intends to further his education in exercise science. His goal is to get a master’s degree.
He has no set time frame for how long his NFL career will last. He jokes that NFL stands for “Not For Long” — words of wisdom he picked up from Fagan.
“Four years from now,” Holmes said, “my body may not be the same and they can bring in a rookie who can do the same thing as me.
“So I just have to keep getting better.”