John Whisler STAFF
Publication: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Long before leading Marshall to the Class 5A state title game and his days as a Texas Longhorn, before he became a premier NFL running back, Priest Holmes was a neighborhood star on the Southwest Side. Most 9- and 10-year-olds growing up in the Hidden Cove subdivision wouldn’t dare play tackle football in the street, let alone do it against kids nearly twice their age. But Holmes was different. He wasn’t very big, but he was fearless, and he was elusive. He had to be, he says, in order to survive.
“The big kids would let you run along the sidewalk and wait to ram you into the mailbox,” Holmes said. “I learned real quick how to make people miss.” It was a skill that served him well, at Marshall High School, Texas and finally in the NFL, where he played for nine seasons before retiring in 2007. Along the way, he overcame injuries and rejection to carve out a storied career, a career that will be recognized when Holmes is inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame on Friday night at the Alamodome.
“I’m very honored to be recognized and included in such a select group,” he said. His unique name helped put him there. Born Priest Anthony Holmes, he went by his middle name throughout high school and parts of college. His mother almost named him Fox or X instead of Priest. He grew up in a military household with his two sisters. At an early age, his parents taught him discipline and perseverance, traits that would become the bedrock of his football career. Holmes would display those attributes – and his talents – early, on the streets of his old neighborhood, in Pop Warner leagues and middle school in the Southwest Independent School District. But after the family moved to the North Side, Holmes ended up at Marshall, where he played for coach David Visentine. “He wasn’t very big, but he was one of those guys who, as a coach, you could tell had that special knack,” said Visentine, now retired and living in Irving. “People like that see things other people just don’t see on the football field. I think he visualized the game and could see the spots he wanted to run to way before other people could see them. “It’s just a knack, a God-given ability. Not everyone has it, but he definitely did.”
The pinnacle came in 1991 when Holmes led Marshall to the state title game against Odessa Permian. The Rams lost, but Holmes left an impression. “When he was on the field, you didn’t want to take a water break or rest your legs,” said N.D. Kalu, a junior defensive end for the Rams that season who went on to play 12 years in the NFL. “He was a player guaranteed to give you at least three spectacular runs a game.”
As a senior, Holmes wasn’t highly recruited. Although initially his first choice was Pittsburgh – “Because that’s where Tony Dorsett went,” Holmes said – he settled on Texas. He played four injury-plagued seasons with the Longhorns, then went undrafted following his senior year. In 1997, he signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. He played three seasons there, started at running back in 2000-01 and in Super Bowl XXXV, then signed with Kansas City. In six seasons with the Chiefs, Holmes was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and became a touchdown machine. In 2003, he scored 27 TDs to break Emmitt Smith’s single-season record of 25. Holmes had blossomed into one of the NFL’s premier running backs. His coach at Kansas City, Dick Vermeil, lauded his former star, calling him “the perfect fit for our system.” “And he just had an unbelievable work ethic,” Vermeil said.
Today, Holmes devotes much of his time to his foundation based in San Antonio with an office in Kansas City.
He attended Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, where he realized he still misses football. There are times, too, he admits, when his mind drifts back to where it all began. On the city’s Southwest Side, in his old neighborhood, where he honed his talents dodging mailboxes.
AGE: 37, born in Fort Smith, Arkansas
EDUCATION: Marshall High, University of Texas
CAREER: Led Marshall to 1991 Class 5A Division I state title game as senior, when he ran for 2,053 yards … Played at UT from 1992-96, running for 1,276 yards and 20 TDs in career … In 10-plus NFL seasons, rushed for 8,172 yards and 86 TDs; had 2,962 receiving yards with eight TDs … Won Super Bowl ring with Baltimore (2000-01 season); 2002 NFL Offensive Player of Year.