Holmes fights through list of career hurdles
Senior nose tackle Isaac Holmes never thought it would come to this, but a harsh reality has crept up on him.
The Rutgers football team, once 4-1 and seeking a BCS bowl, has slipped to 5-6 with only one regular season game remaining. Another loss keeps the Scarlet Knights from bowl eligibility and ends their season about a month earlier than expected.
For Holmes, a loss to South Florida would signal the premature ending of his redemption year.
Before the season, Holmes stressed he wanted to make his last year of eligibility count coming off a season-ending wrist surgery after only four games in 2012.
But with Rutgers currently third to last in the AAC in scoring defense, Holmes’ vision of a satisfying ending is in jeopardy.
“I didn’t see it going this way,” Holmes said. “I saw a brighter future for the team [after starting 4-1], but we dealt with some controversy and some adversity, and it’s just time for us to get it together as a team — as a whole, to go out the right way.”
Grinding through tough times is something Holmes can attest to his entire Rutgers career.
The Hoboken (N.J.) High School product and former No. 3 overall state prospect, according to Rivals, redshirted as a freshman in 2009. Then Holmes was a member of the 2010 team that lost six straight games after Eric LeGrand was paralyzed.
His sophomore year in 2011, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound lineman scratched for more playing time, earning reps in all 13 games. He finished the campaign with 12 tackles and a sack.
But when Holmes finally assumed a starting role last season and accumulated nine tackles in four games, his wrist injury made him a spectator as Rutgers earned its first share of a conference title.
“You deal with some things that happen,” Holmes said. “There’s a lot of things that don’t go your way a lot of seasons, and you really can’t [dwell] on that. You’ve got to move forward.”
The trick has been getting younger teammates to buy in.
After the Knights’ season reached a new low with Saturday’s loss at two-win Connecticut, outside perception is growing that the locker room lacks focus.
Holmes admits he has seen younger players start to question things sometimes behind closed doors, but insists recent execution struggles are not for a lack of effort.
“As a senior and having a bunch of seniors out there in every group, we don’t allow anybody to come out there lackadaisical and just to throw their towels in,” Holmes said. “I really don’t look at effort being an issue with us. We’re going to fight all the way until the end.”
Junior linebacker Kevin Snyder said Holmes’ unwavering devotion to the game is a contagious source of perseverance for the Knights.
They hope to feed off it come Saturday’s home finale.
“No matter what the situation is, no matter how much we’re struggling, he’s always out there and he’s ready to play. He’s ready to fight,” Snyder said. “He understands where we are, and it’s just a fight. No matter what’s going on, he’s fighting. He’s playing his hardest game he possibly can. That’s why I want to play hard. I want to win for those types of guys.”
Head coach Kyle Flood notices the team’s sense of urgency, but at the same time believes Rutgers cannot get too caught up in bowl eligibility.
“If you put your focus on [that], you’re not going to be as ready as you need to be to play the game,” Flood said. “You’ve got to put your focus on doing your job within the system to help the football team be 1?0 and then all of those things we’ll talk about after the game.”
Still, Holmes knows what is at stake. With his college career on the line, he hopes to help the Knights regain control of their destiny and finish what they started.
Even with a nagging elbow injury this year, Holmes has started every game and racked 20 tackles.
After all, he is more than accustomed to obstacles by now.
“I wear a brace that everybody can see during the games, but I don’t feel as though that affects my play at all,” Holmes said. “I still feel I play at a high level and I try to do as much as I can to help this team win, and that’s what I’m going to do all the way until my last game, whether it’s this week or down the road for a bowl game.”
The Daily Targum ranked the top 10 players in the Rutgers football team’s senior class. The Targum will reveal more of the countdown throughout the week before revealing the complete list in Friday’s GameDay issue.