ROSELLE, N.J. – Before 2003 North Carolina football and basketball commitment Jesse Holley became an outstanding athlete at the prep level, he and his two brothers were intermittently homeless. They were neglected by their drug addicted parents, and at times, even abandoned.
When he was nine years old, Holley's struggling mother would leave her three young children alone for weeks at the time. He and his brothers lived in rooming houses and garages, when they were fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads.
Now, to talk to Holley – a well-adjusted adult about to leave his grandmother Yvonne's home for the campus of Chapel Hill – traces of his tragic childhood are hardly visible. Holley has qualified academically, and is excited about displaying his athletic wares in Kenan Stadium and on the Smith Center floor.
But how he got to this point is simply amazing.
"My mother was a very unfit parent," said Holley, who turned 19 in January. "I don't have a problem talking about my past, because people are going to find out regardless. My father was never around. He lived in the next town, but he was no help."
Most kids that age come home from school, change clothes and go out and play. But that lifestyle was not available to Holley, who would have to lock his brother in the house while he would go bag groceries at the corner store.
"That's how we would eat," Holley said. "It would depend on whether I could make six or seven dollars that day. People in the store would really help me out. They would give me lunch meat, Oodles of Noodles, juice, bread and stuff like that – just to make sure that we had something in our stomachs every night."
Yvonne Holley only became aware of the neglect years later. She took the three boys in, rescuing Jesse and his brother from the desperate situation.
"Some of this I didn't know until he came to stay," she said looking down at her hands.
"We kept things under wraps and away from our grandmother," Holley said. "When we would go see her, everything would be ‘hunky-dory.'"
Yvonne provided the boys with the stability of a loving household. Still, it was Jesse who took the initiative to work hard in school to make himself a top student-athlete at the scholastic level.
"Those obstacles that I had to overcome only helped me out better down the road," said Holley, who seems to put a positive spin on everything.
Ranked the No. 14 wide receiver in the country by SuperPrep, Holley set all-time records at Abraham Clark High School in receptions (106), receiving yards (1,449) and touchdown catches (27). He caught 44 passes for 865 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior and played quarterback in five games as a senior.
Holley also averaged nearly 20 points per game on the basketball court, and broke the Rams' career scoring record.
Click here for Part II.