Turtle Power Keeps Making The Grade

Seeing his favorite player put six points on the scoreboard surprised Geoff Collins for sure. So the coach had a sort-of surprise to present Christian Holmes when linebacker evaluations were posted. “I graded out 106,” said Holmes, obviously better than the perfect score. “Then I guess the six was added on for the touchdown!”

Indeed so. Because it isn’t every game a linebacker gives his team a touchdown, and all the more rare to score on a special teams play. So that 106 was just a little Bulldog bonus to go with all the added attention Christian Holmes is getting this week.

“I mean pretty much everywhere I go people notice me, and ask me what was I thinking when I picked up the ball?! I told them, run!”

To recap: with Kentucky kicking off at 2:31 left in Lexington, this SEC contest was still in question. Just as was a heckuva lot else with #1-ranked and league-leading Mississippi State only leading 38-31, and a hot Wildcat club clawing for one more chance to catch up and play for a monumental upset. The on-sides kickoff was expected.

The outcome? Not at all. When linebacker Holmes saw the long-hop coming his way he knew his duty was to field the football on the fly, and he did. So possession was secured and the next step was to take a knee, right?

Instead Holmes took off the other way through startled Wildcats and maybe even some surprised teammates. Slipping one tackler and stiff-arming another, the kicker, suddenly nothing was between Turtle and touchdown.

“I just looked at my left and saw Kendrick Market and I was like, I’m really about to score! And I just had to hit the ‘Madden dive’.” Yes, which raised the spectre of a sportsmanship penalty or something worse. Fortunately no flag fell.

“Actually I think #33 was near me, so I didn’t think he was going to flag me for that. As long as I didn’t do anything extra.” That didn’t spare Holmes some sideline questioning from Collins. “Yeah, I don’t think he expected me to do that.”

“He’s kind of the first person I came to and he was like, what were you thinking? Catch and run, Coach, catch and run!”

This one event would make for a fine isolated story. Happily there is much more to Holmes’ senior season than a single (if huge) highlight. Holmes has earned a regular role in Mississippi State’s rotation as a 1B-team outside linebacker, so much so that after seven victories he is fifth in team tackles at 29 and third-highest among all linebackers.

Holmes has deflected one pass, forced a fumble, but until Kentucky was more steady than spectacular…and just fine with it. “Yeah, just going out every day, trying to make my team better and doing what I do best. Play football.” Which he does lots of, more than most starters in fact thanks to the extra assignments with kicking plays.

“My role is all special teams and pretty much even reps at linebacker. It’s staying in my role and when I get in at linebacker just do my job each and every play.”

Yet if Holmes brings just a little more energy, or ‘juice’ as Coach Collins calls it, to his special teams specialties, whose to blame him? It isn’t simply because he thrives in this mayhem either but because at Mississippi State protecting and covering and blocking and yes even returning kicks is a role of respect.

“Basically I feel everybody looks up to me as a special teams ‘captain’ or leader,” Holmes said. “I just tell them special teams is a big, big role in the game. I mean you dominate special teams, it’s like a quarter you win the game. So I just come out to motivate everybody to do well on special teams, do your job. When I lack I tell them to get on me, whenever they lack I get on them. Special teams is my role and linebacker, I just do my role as well.”

The irony here is just how close Holmes came to handing all such roles off. He’ll admit now that there was a time he and Collins didn’t see eye-to-eye. “We started off on the wrong foot,” Holmes said, and that might have had something to do with the player’s wishes to move to offense for a fall. Even when the 2013 season concluded the fourth-year junior seriously considered bowing-out and getting on with larger life responsibilities. Holmes did stay around to participate in spring camp, then in school for summer, and finally reported on time for preseason.

Meaning, he came so close to missing out on all the 2014 fun with a Bulldog team now ranked #1 and on track to play for a SEC championship. And maybe even more. Holmes doesn’t waste much time today thinking what-if? and all. “I feel like I made the right decision and came back, and I’m playing a role and worked my way to get the opportunity to play linebacker. So I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I get.”

Not only that, Collins unabashedly adores the team’s Turtle. “Now it’s like brotherly love, or more like father and son,” Holmes said. Hmmmm, so does their relationship sometimes have other ‘backers suspecting the teacher’s pet is getting graded on a special curve or something?

“Nah, he’s on us all. He grades us evenly. I just happened to get a little lucky, catch the ball and score a touchdown.” A play that pushed his grade off the scale, even if it didn’t earn SEC special teams Player of the Week in something of an upset. “I kind of figured it was coming,” Holmes said. “I mean there were some big-time plays made but I figured that would maybe top that.”

Ahh, well, having six points on the stat sheet is reward enough for a Turtle who outran everyone in thoroughbred country. And hey, social media has made a statement with Holmes’ big play set to the Turtle Song and such. For a guy who earned his nickname on alleged resemblance to a Ninja Turtle character, it’s clear what they were thinking.

“Yeah, it’s pretty legit, I love that!”

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