Steve Robertson -

Tampa Bulldog Caps Career in St. Petersburg Bowl

ST. PETERSBURG -- It’s a perfect win-win for Brandon Holloway. He’s both in the Tampa area for Christmas, and playing in his senior season bowl. “There’s no better way to leave, than your last game being back at home.”

Yes, Mississippi State’s veteran running back has the unplannable privilege of taking a last Bulldog bow near where his football career began. The Tampa native and Alonso High alumnus will line up sometime after 11:00am local Monday as State takes on Miami-Ohio in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

“It’s going to be great,” Holloway said. “We haven’t played any games even close to me. So to finally get one right there where I live, that will be pretty fun.”

Holloway is correct about not coming close to the Bay area during his Bulldog career. He has been back to the state, for the 2014 Orange Bowl as a veteran and to watch the 2013 Gator Bowl as a redshirting freshman. Neither are all that adjacent to Tampa in this lengthy land of course, which has been something of a letdown for Holloway.

“When I came I knew we were in the West, but I was hoping to get to lay Florida sometime soon. But at least I made it down here!”

Yes, Holloway’s roundabout route as a Bulldog back has brought him back home after all. Or across the Bay anyway, to Tropicana Field. It will be his first real football experience under this dome, though he has watched a few Rays baseball games there. “And the Under Armor Game was there a couple of years ago.”

So Sunday’s afternoon walk-through gave Holloway and team together their first look for Tropicana’s venue. Or maybe make that first feel, since the rather notorious turf is something all players and particularly the speed-position Dogs wanted to test out. A fast guy like Holloway, more than most.

“I’ve never actually been on it but from what they say it could be interesting.”

Interesting is one fair way to talk of Holloway’s college career. It started slowly after the redshirt season when the 5-8, 165-or-so speedster was being developed not as a runner but a receiver. Mississippi State’s shift from pocket-type passing to more run-pass option changed several aspects to the offense, Holloway’s role among them.

He went back to running back with a ‘minor’ in kick return. In 2014 he averaged 6.5 yards per rush as an alternate. But it was in 2015 that Holloway took a larger role, rushing for 413 yards and catching 33 passes for another 396 yards with five touchdowns. Oh, and he accounted for the first Mississippi State points of that year with his 100-yard kickoff return at Hattiesburg.

The versatility marked Holloway as one of the game’s all-purpose players to watch this fall. It didn’t work out. Not least because Holloway wasn’t healthy a lot of the senior season with ankle and shoulder issues. He only missed four games but “They were split-up so it seemed a lot longer than it was.”

The other frustrating fact was at his size Holloway isn’t a tackle-breaker. He still averaged 4.5 yards per rush and scored a touchdown on opening day. Other than the UMass trip where Holloway ran for a career-best 80 yards on ten totes there wasn’t a lot of moments to yell about.

Part of this of course had to do with how Mississippi State’s offense gradually, often painfully, evolved through the whole schedule. Fortunately the best came in the last month as Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams became the power-pounding combo Dan Mullen had hoped.

Even if this meant a downsized personal role, “I think it was great,” team-guy Holloway said of November’s successes. “I missed a few games being hurt. A big help was Nick Fitz got a lot better, then you’ve got Train back there doing amazing.”

Holloway is healthy again for the finale, though he has practiced in a no-contact red jersey for bowl came. “It’s just precautionary,” he said. That bright red shirt was still seen in action during position drills though, because Holloway doesn’t want to take his waning days in maroon-and-white easy.

“I’m still out there fighting for reps when I’m not even supposed to!”

The sentiments aren’t just from being a senior, either. Bowl camp has a special meaning for this Dog. He goes back to December 2013 as a second-year frosh, with Liberty Bowl practices key to his career transition.

“Having that bowl practice was definitely good for. Especially practicing kick return. So it helped me a lot for my time to come.” Now that his time is ending? Holloway is a proud proponent of bowl practices.

“This is my fifth year and I’ve been to five-straight bowl games. So if you add up 15 practices for each bowl game that’s more you’re getting on top of players not going. So it’s definitely important for young guys. You get to try different things that you’d never have known you’d like doing.”

Now that it’s game day Holloway will most like walking out of the neighborhood dome a winner. Having a hand in a victory will be even better, and should Holloway get enough chances he could reach 1,000 career rushing yards. He’s at 958 in 45 games for now.

Whatever snaps he receives, though, the real point is simple. Holloway finishes with one more bowl game because Mississippi State remains a post-season presence. He and classmates are the fourth ‘generation’ of four-year Dogs who will have ended every varsity season in bowl play somewhere.

“You don’t want to be the seniors that didn’t go to a bowl game. You want to keep it going and keep pushing the younger guys, so they can strive and not let it be them.”

Speaking of younger guys, really younger, with his degree in hand Holloway is thinking beyond Monday to what 2017 and life brings his way. He will do some spring training ahead of combine time but school is finished entirely.

“Whatever comes up, comes up. I’m open to pretty much everything, job, football, whatever works out.” Long-term, youth work appears to be the plan. “Since I was about 15 working with a day care, that’s the most fun for me.” Even if it means leaving Tampa again?

“Kids need a positive impact no matter where you are in the world. So I’m not afraid to move anywhere.”

Which sounds like another win-win for Bulldog Brandon Holloway, eh?

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