Nov. 21, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Just as the number of snaps are expanding for Jermaine Holmes, the middle linebacker’s days in Marshall’s football program are dwindling.
Holmes and fellow senior Neville Hewitt have found their field time increase significantly since an Oct. 4 win at Old Dominion, when Evan McKelvey went down to an ACL tear and subsequent surgery for a second time in his career.
As the unbeaten and No. 18 Herd (10-0, 6-0) goes to Legion Field to face UAB (5-5, 3-3) for a Conference USA game on Saturday, it figures to be Holmes’ 34th career start … and perhaps the last road game of his career.
And the Valdosta, Ga., native now really has the same kind of grasp on one of Coach Doc Holliday’s mantras – "One day at a time, one game at a time, one play at a time" – as he does opposing ball carriers.
"No, there aren’t many practices like this left for me," Holmes said Tuesday after the Herd completed a frigid-day workout in the new indoor facility. "It seemed like it had gone slow before, but as I got to my senior year, it felt like it’s just sped up.
"I never felt like I’d see the last year, like Senior Day (next Friday versus Western Kentucky at Edwards Stadium). I remember being here as a freshman, those boys walking out on Senior Night. I didn’t think too much about it because I was just a freshman. But now, I see how they felt. It’s going by really fast now."
Holmes is much faster, too, having dropped 20 points in the offseason, when he also cut the dreadlocks he’d worn since the seventh grade. His slimming down and toning up has paid off in his play. He’s also become a quicker study.
When the season began, Hewitt, Holmes and McKelvey were a three-man rotation at the two inside linebacker spots. Before he was injured late in the first half at ODU, McKelvey had played 36 snaps. Hewitt played 36 for the game, while Holmes had 23.
The next week against Middle Tennessee – with McKelvey shelved – Hewitt played 72 and Holmes 65. That trend has continued in the four games that followed. Holmes averaged 31.4 snaps in his first five games, and 62.0 in the last five.
"We knew that when Evan went down, we’d need to step up, play more snaps, D.J. (Hunter, outside linebacker), too," the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Holmes said. "Everybody approached that the right way, in meeting rooms, on the field. We really became one as a linebacker group because we all needed to take over for him."
Adam Fuller, the Herd’s second-year linebackers coach, has seen a difference in Holmes this season.
"He’s done a really good job," Fuller said. "When Evan went down, it went from kind of a three-man rotation to a two-man rotation. Those are our two best and as a group, they’ve really developed a chemistry with each other, both doing very well.
"The weight loss really prepared him for the season. He was probably 15 pounds heavy last year. He’s a twitchy, knee-bending player, but you could see the next gear wasn’t there. He was just carrying too much weight, and when he made that commitment and dropped that weight, I noticed it right away.
"Because at the beginning of last year, he was around that and he slowly put on weight during the year. It was a point of emphasis in the offseason to get him to a certain weight and he’s done it and it showed his competitiveness for him to be able to that, and it shows up in his movement right now."
Holmes’ 70 tackles rank second among the Herd to 74 by Hewitt. Holmes has 263 career tackles, the top total for a current Marshall player, including 31.5 tackles for loss.
"I feel like my weight loss has really paid off," Holmes said, "and hard work and more film study in the room with the other linebackers has helped, too. I’m just trying to appreciate what we have, and cherish every moment of every day because it’s my last year here and who knows if I get that chance to play more football? So, I’m cherishing the moment every day."
Fuller has noticed a difference in more than Holmes’ dreadlocked-shedded appearance.
"He’s spent more time in the room, and it’s developed chemistry within our group," Fuller said. "Every Monday, those guys come in and I bet they’re in there on their own, been down there three hours on their off day. And when we meet special teams, they’re usually in there 35-40 minutes before the meeting starts.
"It’s helped unbelievably, really provided confidence to them. And playing linebacker, you’re lucky to be in that position, and you’ve got to make sure you have a really good knowledge of what’s going on because you have to be the communicator. And it’s really given Jermaine a lot of confidence – he and Neville both, and D.J., with (Stefan) Houston, (Raheim) Huskey and Cortez Carter. They’ve really developed good chemistry, and that’s a big part of their success as of late."
Holmes said he appreciates being part of a second straight C-USA East Division title team, but said the Herd’s task is far from finished, even as his career winds down.
"It feels good to get that again, and what felt better was getting there by beating Rice last week," Holmes said. "(The Owls) took the title away from us last year down (in Houston) and we just had to come out and show them who the real champs are.
"We’ve still got two more games to think about before we start thinking about the conference championship game, and we need to play these two like championship games, because we can’t sleep on anybody, especially now that’s we’ve come this far.
"UAB, I remember two years ago went to their stadium and they beat us. The environment, no crowd, no noise, and I know they want to take it from us. It’s up to us to play our game. If we do that, we’ll be fine."
Holmes said he was recruited by UAB, but took his only visits to Marshall and UCF. He played for Holliday’s 2011 Herd as a true freshman, making eight starts. His career high of 18 tackles came this season against Florida Atlantic.
"10-0, to be honest, I never thought it would happen while I was still here," Holmes said of the Herd’s perfect start. "I didn’t know if it would happen this soon. I’ve never been on a 10-0 team before, and it’s great. My senior year (at Valdosta) high school, we were 11-2 and that was good, but after 6-0, we lost so we never got to 10 in a row.
"Now, I just want to help my team get to what our goal is – a conference championship -- focus on what I need to focus on, and I feel like the rest will take care of itself."
Fuller said Holmes is primed for a strong finish.
"His preparation and practice habits have improved," the Marshall linebackers coach said. "I wouldn’t say Jermaine’s practice habits were terrible last year, but they’ve definitely improved. He’s going about – every Tuesday and Wednesday – like a pro. He really is.
"He’s in there (the linebackers’ room) more than I’ve ever seen him in there, and he’s practicing as hard as he’s ever practiced. He’s doing all the little things that need to be done in order to be a high level player and it’s showing up on Saturday."