Three years later, he achieved success on the field as senior captain, gaining leadership skills that would take him to the pros and later be invaluable in his professional life.
Now, as president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland - an organization that empowers blacks and other minority groups to contribute their full potential to Cleveland's economic prosperity and improved quality of life - Holifield encourages students and citizens to use the same drive for success that he learned on the field in their lives.
Recently, Holifield provided an endowment that will fund the Johnathan M. Holifield Leadership Seminar in WVU's Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. Former WVU student-athletes and graduates who have pursued a successful career path will be invited to present a seminar on leadership. The seminar will explore how athletic skills, like team-building and competitiveness, can be translated to life skills, career success and professional leadership opportunities.
"Whether you win the big game or land the high-profile client, great responsibility and the expectation to deliver are attached to success," Holifield said. "It's all about competing with yourself. It's not enough to show up. You have to make a competitive effort and have a drive to achieve a measure of excellence."
Many student-athletes are enrolled in the Eberly College's Leadership Studies minor, and Holifield wants them and other students in the program to use the seminar to recognize that a competitive spirit is essential to any leadership role.
The former WVU student-athlete invited to speak at the seminar will be selected by the director of the Leadership Studies Program and the Eberly College Office of the Dean. The WVU Alumni Association, WVU director of athletics and Holifield will be consulted and able to nominate speakers for consideration. The endowment will generate one seminar annually.
Holifield earned a bachelor's degree in political science from WVU in 1988 and a master's degree in education and his juris doctorate from the University of Cincinnati.
After playing on WVU's varsity football team, he went on to play for the National Football League's Cincinnati Bengals. He is a member of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the WVU Alumni Association and the University of Cincinnati Alumni Association.
Currently, Holifield serves as a member of the Eberly College's advisory board. He was the 2004 recipient of the WVU Department of Political Science Distinguished Alumnus Award. He and his wife, Antoinette, a 1986 alumna of WVU with a master's degree in public administration, reside in Cleveland.
The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, a private nonprofit corporation that generates and provides support for WVU.