Will Fuller is perhaps, not the ideal example for today’s exercise in the finer points and differentiation of rare speed, but the Irish record-setter will have to do.
The fastest football player between the lines in the college game last season, Fuller augmented that known strength in February with a blazing 4.32 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, second-fastest behind Georgia running back Keith Marshall’s 4.31 among all competitors.
Fuller has track speed, but he’s also blessed with rare game speed, as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly explains:
“There’s track speed, there’s in-line, straight-line speed and then there’s, quite frankly, football speed,” said Kelly when asked about junior slot receiver Corey Holmes. “I think that’s been the struggle with Corey in the first couple of years, to get that to translate.
“Playing fast, playing with confidence. I think he’s gaining the confidence. We’re seeing, definitely, a different football player. He’s not Will Fuller speed yet, certainly although he runs at the same speed, he’s not playing at that speed yet. He’s capable. He’s certainly not there yet but he’s moving and trending in the right direction.”
Holmes is Notre Dame’s fastest player heading into 2016, registering a 4.39 sprint over the winter. That’s not the fastest he’s ever run.
“In high school, the fastest 40 I’ve ever been clocked at was 4.37,” said Holmes. “It was just a matter of time I guess before (the Irish staff) found out how fast I was.”
A SOPHOMORE SEASON ON THE SIDELINES
Holmes didn’t run track in high school save for his freshman season, which is more than can be said for his sophomore season’s contributions in South Bend – an unexpected redshirt year after seeing the field in two (blowout) contests as a freshman in 2014.
“It was at the end of August camp when they told me they were going to take the year to redshirt me,” Holmes offered of his 2015 disappointment. “It was hard at the time but I just looked at it as a year to get bigger, faster, stronger to work on my game. And kind of took it as a blessing in disguise, because it really humbled me. It was a really humbling experience all last year.
“I just kept telling myself it was happening for a reason. That’s really what I felt. Maybe this is what I needed to raise my level of play.”
Myriad conversations with his father, David, helped. The former Syracuse Orangeman cornerback was part of head coach Dick McPherson’s 11-0 1987 squad that tied with Auburn in the 1988 Sugar Bowl. Holmes was selected in the fourth round of the 1989 draft by the Miami Dolphins.
“He has a great influence on me, I talk to him every day,” Holmes said of his father. “I talked to him 30 minutes ago. He reached the level I’m trying to get to, in the NFL. I’ve learned a lot growing up from him. He’s been a great influence on me.
“He tells me: ‘Trust your speed. You’re fast, just trust it.’” At times I get caught up in trying to make people miss and don’t really show the speed, but that’s all it is. Pushing myself and running full speed all the time.”
And trusting he has a place in Notre Dame’s skill position pecking order after watching a pair of freshmen position mates, C.J. Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown play last season in his stead.
“These were the type of talks I was having with my dad who really kept my head up. Kept my chin high,” said Holmes of being passed over last fall. “These young guys came in here and they’re getting some of the reps I should be having. But I told myself, ‘Don’t worry about other people. Worry about bettering myself as a player.’
“Once I started to not worry about other people as much and focus in on myself – and it wasn’t until halfway through the season where I was able to worry about my own game – that’s when I saw the turnaround.”
As for the next step, from dime-a-dozen fast guy to on-field playmaker?
“Consistency,” said Holmes. “Consistently run good routes, consistently catching the ball, consistently knowing my responsibilities. And I think I improved upon that last year and through (today).”
Full speed ahead.