Because after making the spring-season move to offense, Holmes was able to return to defense in Mississippi State's win over Alcorn State. During the second half and with coordinator Geoff Collins rolling all available players onto the field, Holmes took some turns again at linebacker.
"They just called me in and asked if I'm willing to play linebacker, and I told them yeah, wherever you needed me. They asked where I preferred and I said mike, mike linebacker. He put me out there."
Even allowing for the caliber of competition, Holmes thoroughly enjoyed being back on that unit and even better as the middle ‘backer, overseeing the entire defensive show. He finished the day with a couple of credited tackles even. "I think I did pretty good. I remembered the base defense so it was just like the old days."
Yet these are new days for Holmes, the fourth-year junior who has spent most of his college career looking for a specific spot he could fill in the lineup. The first two varsity seasons were indeed spent in a backup role at linebacker, one of the outside slots usually. Holmes made the most of his substitution opportunities and came into this junior season with 29 tackles. For some reason he has a knack against Arkansas; six tackles in 2011 and four more last year.
Still like any aggressive athlete Holmes has sought a larger role. And when the Bulldogs assembled last spring for practicing, there he was wearing the same number but in a different-colored shirt. Coach Dan Mullen was giving Holmes a shot at offense, which now Holmes says was his ambition way back in 2010 upon arrival from Puckett High School.
"Yeah, Coach Mullen was like, do you want to play offense or defense? I told him I wanted to play offense, we had a little discussion. He said we need you at linebacker and I was like OK."
And Holmes really has been OK with defense. He still is, as last Saturday showed. But the priority this fall has changed as he still gets up to tight end speed. Holmes did have an impressive spring to be sure, catching balls and scoring touchdowns in both scrimmages and the Maroon-White game. His best plays in fact were in red zone settings where Holmes was able to escape coverage and slide open. Maybe it was recalling how he was once supposed to track tight ends from a linebacker slot?
More likely it is the intensive training which has accelerated his transition. Coach Scott Sallach has said that no player must understand the entire offense better than his tight ends, so Holmes has had to absorb a whole lot of information in a single year.
"I'm having a lot of fun. I'm learning a lot from Malcolm Johnson, Brandon Hill, Rufus Warren," he said. "Gus Walley is teaching me stuff every night and we're going over the playbook. It's just the little things that matter the most."
Thing is, tight end may well be the ideal application of Holmes' all-around athleticism. Especially with the way Mississippi State now defines this particular position. Where Johnson and Hill are wide receivers at heart, and Warren or Artimas Samuel are more traditional extra blockers, Holmes is something of all that. And he likes the all-purpose identity.
"It's a little bit of everywhere. Split-out, in the backfield, hip on the tackle, it's just the hybrid position. You have to know what you're doing every play and know your job."
It's an interesting position to say the least, as well as an interesting way Holmes' career has developed to this point. "I enjoy it," said Holmes. "I'm waiting on my number to be called on either side. And special teams, that's my main role. But whenever my number is called on offense, defense, whatever, I just do my job."
Ahhhh, yes. Special teams. Every Dog worth his grant acknowledges the importance Mullen awards these squads, but to Holmes it really, truly is a special status playing on kicking teams. It also, absolutely suits his competitive tastes.
"I start on every special team but punt," he said. And on that he's a first sub too. Otherwise, "I do it all. But that's my main role. I do kickoff return, I'm the left-guard. On kickoff cover I'm next to the kicker. A lot of players call it ‘crash test dummies', taking out the shield. But I seem to avoid them and make a big play every once in a while!"
Right, about making plays; kickoff cover can't tackle anyone if the kickoff isn't caught and returned. So for fans howling that every kickoff must go into the end zone for touchback, well, Mr. Holmes disagrees. Emphatically. In fact, as Devon Bell is placing ball on tee there is his teammate telling him hang it high but not too deep.
"Every once in a while I have to tell him keep it in play so we aren't running down the field for nothing. Last week I got a little bit upset with Devon, he didn't want anybody to return one!" What will surprise State fans more is generally the coaching staff is of Holmes' opinion too, because of the faith they have in how these Dogs can cover. "Exactly. We prefer to stop them more inside the 20. But we all do our job and have fun and fly around."
And now there's at least the occasional chance for Holmes to fly around on defense again. Two-way players are rare indeed in today's college game, yet here is one Dog who'd delight in that identity given the chances.
"I mean, if they need me to play defense one week and the offense at the same time I can do it. I'm Balis-Made, so I can do it mentally and physically!"
And with a little passion, apparently. The only critique of his Kiss Cam antics has been that brushy beard Holmes sports. "Everybody hates this beard," he grins. "So I'm probably going to keep it the whole season. I told Justin (team trainer Gremillion) every time he asks me to cut it, that's an extra month."
Bearded or not, Holmes is having the sort of fun he'd always hoped for when coming to Mississippi State. Though oddly enough, he is downplaying this sudden flurry of fan-fame.
"I do nothing special, I just do my job." Well, sure…but isn't that the entire point of playing so many roles in a Southeastern Conference program? Yeah, Holmes says, he can see that.
"I look at special as people doing their job. And that turns out to be special."