EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Jesse Holley

DALLAS - When members of the SMU football team convened Thursday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium to go through their optional offseason conditioning workout, there were a couple of new faces on the east side of the field.

One was former Mustang quarterback Chris Sanders, who has forged a long career in Arena League football. The other was Jesse Holley, winner of Michael Irvin's Fourth and Long reality show that earned Holley, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007 as an undrafted free agent out North Carolina (where he also was a member of the Tar Heel basketball team), an invitation to San Antonio to try to make the Cowboys' 2009 roster as a free agent.

Holley (6-3, 214) visited with TheRanchReport.com to talk about the show, keeping the results secret and what he expects in San Antonio.

TheRanchReport.com: How long ago was the last episode filmed?
Jesse Holley: The northern part of two months ago — it's been a while.

TheRanchReport.com: So how many people knew, between the end of filming and when the final episode was aired last week, that you had won and were heading to training camp with the Cowboys?
Jesse Holley: Three — my older brother, my girlfriend and my mentor back home (in New Jersey). That was it. Those were the only three that knew, until Monday night — then the whole world knew.

TheRanchReport.com: So how hard was it to keep it under wraps, and put up with everyone bugging you?
Jesse Holley: It was tough, because people would ask questions like "want to go on vacation in August? What are you doing in August? Got anything going on in August?" I told them "sure, let's do that," but I had to convince them that I didn't make it, or that I didn't know yet. So my lie was that we were filming the last episode live. That's the lie I told, and that held for a little while, but people started to suspect and make their own observations and guess. They'd say "you made it, you made it," and I told them I didn't know yet. They'd tell me "you tell me" and I told them "I can't tell you anything I don't know."

TheRanchReport.com: Have you ever had to try to keep something quiet that long, like cheating on a test in school or something?
Jesse Holley: If it's something bad, like cheating on a test, you don't tell anyone that. But you want to tell everyone "I'm a new member of the Dallas Cowboys." I wanted to share that with everybody, but I just couldn't. I had to keep it to myself.

TheRanchReport.com: Do you find that people assume that because you won the show that you've already made the roster?
Jesse Holley: People that understand football know that it is what it is — I am the 80th man on the roster, but I still, like everyone else in camp, have to earn a spot. Nobody's spot is guaranteed, so I'm going in there trying to earn my spot.

TheRanchReport.com: At what point during the show did you start to think you weren't just one of the original group, and that you had a chance to make it all the way to San Antonio?
Jesse Holley: I thought that on the way in. If anybody didn't think that way, they shouldn't have come. The reason I came was to win — I didn't come just to be on the show, or to be on TV. I came to take advantage of an opportunity of a lifetime, and to win. I trusted my ability, I trusted my work ethic and my skills, and my faith in God, and I just wanted to go out there and show that I belong.

TheRanchReport.com: What were your nerves like going into that last show?
Jesse Holley: It was something of it's own — it was special. The game before (the last show), I had a pretty special game. I think I had about seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. So I was pretty confident that I ended on the right note. The last thing they saw me do was on a positive note, but you didn't know. It was a TV show, but it was also football, and the guys I was in the final with, Ahmad Smith and Andrew Hawkins, are two tremendous athletes. But luckily Michael, Coach (Joe) Avezzano and Coach (Bill) Bates and Mr. (Jerry) Jones saw something in me, and I'm just blessed to be here.

TheRanchReport.com: So was the final decision Michael's alone, or were (Bates, Avezzano and Jones) involved in the ultimate selection of you as the winner?
Jesse Holley: Honestly, I think it was a collective thing, where everybody put their own two cents into it. Jerry Jones, from what I've come to know of him, he has his hands in anything that has to do with the Cowboys, from the people that cut his grass at Valley Ranch to the people that work on the stadium — he has his hands in on just about everything. So I would be pretty surprised if he didn't have his hands in on the final decision of who was going to be on his football team. But I'm also pretty sure he trusts Michael and Coach Avezzano and Coach Bates and their decision, because those three guys love the Cowboys — they really love the Cowboys. So they wanted to deliver something that was pure and legitimate.

TheRanchReport.com: It's traditional that the rookies get some abuse from the older guys. Considering the way you have earned your invitation to camp, do you expect even more?
Jesse Holley: I think so, yeah. I think guys are going to call me "TV guy" or "Michael Irvin's boy" or things like that, but I'm prepared for all the crazy things they're going to say and do. I'm fully aware that those things happen, and I expect them and I welcome them.

TheRanchReport.com: There have been some years in which rookies mysteriously had some of their hair disappear. You look like you've put some time into grown your dreadlocks — you're not going to fool with those, are you?
Jesse Holley: The funny thing is I've been debating on cutting my hair — I really have. I've been here for a little while, and it gets pretty hot in Texas, more than it does in North Carolina. So this stuff (hair) gets pretty heavy and pretty hot, and I want to go in and have no distractions. I don't want to be compared to anybody. I want to go in clean-cut and ready to take care of business. It's something I've discussed with my family, me and Michael (Irvin) talked about it, and also this is an opportunity to do some great things outside of football, so I want to make sure I take every advantage of it and make the best of it.

TheRanchReport.com: The Cowboys have a few other receivers — Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Isaiah Stanback — who are about your size. Is your playing style similar to any of those guys?
Jesse Holley: Roy Williams isn't going anywhere. You don't pay a guy that much money and cut him, so you know Roy Williams isn't going anywhere. As far as the other guys … I am what I am. I'm a big guy. My basketball background definitely helps me with my athleticism, to go up and get jump balls, there's not a route that I can't run, there's not a ball that I can't catch, and there's not a safety that I fear. So I'm not afraid to go over the middle, I'm not afraid to make catches inside or outside. Anything that the Cowboys need me to do, I'm not afraid to do it.

TheRanchReport.com: How many special teams did you play on at North Carolina?
Jesse Holley: I played on punt, punt return and kickoff return. But I plan on playing on everything, if they want me to. But circumstances were different. At Carolina, I was a three-year starter, and I was the leading receiver, so they couldn't really afford to get me hurt on special teams. So I played some, but it wasn't my main thing to do. But now, they don't need me to be a star receiver right now, so special teams will be something I look forward to doing, and plan on doing, and doing well.

TheRanchReport.com: So what have you been doing since the last episode of the show was shot?
Jesse Holley: I've had to sneak around a lot. Coach Avezzano and I have had these sessions at Valley Ranch. Believe it or not, we've had sessions where we spent eight, nine, 10 hours in the film room, going over film — I promise you. We spent hours upon hours upon hours just watching film from (the Cowboys') OTAs and mini-camps from this summer, trying to learn the offense the best I can, so when I get to camp, I will have some sense of what's going on. I've been working with Michael, I've been working at Velocity Sports, been throwing with Chris Sanders — I'm covering all my bases to make sure that I'm ready for training camp.

TheRanchReport.com: There are players from all across the country who come to a mini-camp at Valley Ranch and insist they grew up as Cowboys fans. You're from New Jersey, which is either New York Giants or New York Jets or Philadelphia Eagles country. Who did you grow up rooting for?
Jesse Holley: To be honest, I've never really had a football team. I've always enjoyed watching individual players, but I've never really had a football team. In 2007, when I was with the Bengals, the Bengals were my favorite team. In 2009, I'm now with the Dallas Cowboys. Guess who my favorite team is?

As far as specific players, Cris Carter. I loved Cris Carter, because for a long time, I wasn't the fastest guy around, so I had to make up for my lack of speed with other things. You look at Cris Carter — he wasn't the fastest guy, but year in and year out, he got in and out of those routes, and he caught the ball very well. That's what I like to do — I like to get in and out of my routes, run great routes, catch the ball very well, and make the first downs. We've got guys that can stretch the field vertically and go deep, and I want to be that guy that's not afraid to go over the middle … go deep when necessary, but definitely keep the chains moving.

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