By Terrance Turner
At 1 pm today, the XFL hosted an Instagram Live session with Houston Roughnecks wide receiver Nick Holley. During the roughly 40-minute interview, Holley discussed his journey to the XFL and how he’s keeping in shape amid the coronavirus outbreak. But he also opened up about a life anchored by faith, family, and football.
Nick’s twin brother Nate also joined the livestream, as the two discussed their relationship and love for sports. The two went to Whitmer High School in Toledo, Ohio. They went to Kent State University together, where Nate played safety. Nick, however, alternated between quarterback, wide receiver, and running back. What’s his favorite position? “Quarterback, by far,” Nick said during the livestream.
While he was initially drafted as a running back, Holley eventually became a slot receiver. Yet the idea of Nick Holley at QB is not outside the realm of possibility: “Coach Jones knows that at any given time, I’m ready to get back there and sling it.” Speaking of QBs, how was it working with former Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker?
“P.J. is an exciting player to be around,” Holley said. “Playing with PJ was absolutely amazing. I don’t know if you know this, but I was a quarterback in college as well [at Kent State] and quarterback in high school [at Whitmer High] and I said to PJ: ‘You remind me of a young Nick’, just messing with him. But you know, he’s got the will to win. He’s always ready to go, and I love the fact that he’s an awesome competitor. Just being around somebody that has that competitive ability, that passion and love…”
It’s passion and love that has kept him playing this game, even through pain. At 25, Nick Holley has suffered five major season-ending injuries. Today, he said: “The broken back was probably the most painful thing I’ve been through.” But that physical hurt paled in comparison to what he went through emotionally.
“When I was 18 years old, I lost my mother,” Holley said. “That was the worst pain I could ever go through.” The emotional pain from that loss outweighed pain from injuries. And it let Holley know that he could survive the long, grueling recovery time: “I’d already been through the worst that I could go through.”
During the livestream, Holley discussed both his injury history and his perseverance. “Five years in a row, the football season has been taken away from me,” he said. This year, the coronavirus was responsible for the abrupt end of the XFL season. But Holley’s last three seasons at Kent State — and his 2018 stint with the Los Angeles Rams — were all derailed by season-ending injuries: a broken back and three (!!!) torn ACLs. According to the Toledo Blade, the third ACL tear occurred during Rams training camp in 2018.
Holley didn’t even know he’d torn the ligament at first. When he learned the news, Nick was devastated: “I remember I got the news, went back to my room, turned the shower on, and just bawled my eyes out in the dark,” he told the Blade. But he didn’t stay down for long. “I went in the shower, bawled my eyes out, but I almost felt…peace,” he said during today’s livestream. “That’s when I found the Lord. That’s when I found faith.”
HIs faith informs his approach to the game. When I asked Holley on March 7 how he gave that memorable performance in Week 5, he thanked the Almighty. “First and foremostly, I give glory to God. It’s the big man upstairs,” he said. But Holley supplements his faith with a positive attitude.
He quoted Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanaugh (who was himself quoting Mike Tyson): “A happy fighter is a dangerous fighter.” That philosophy drives how Holley acts on the field: “I play better when I’m having fun and when I’m enjoying myself.” The good vibes extend to his treatment of fellow players. “If you ask anybody on the defense, I’m the nicest guy on the field,” he says. Friendliness can be a strategic advantage, Holley told the viewers, adding that sometimes, just smiling at another man can throw him off his game. And it’s easy to smile when you love the game as much as he does. “I can’t wait for another opportunity to get back on that field.”
Part of the livestream included a fan Q&A. One XFL fan asked: “What is it like to never lose an XFL game in your professional career?” “That ain’t saying much, first of all,” Holley laughs. “So we had a long ways to go.” Asked about how it felt to be undefeated, he said: “It was frustrating and encouraging all at the same time.” The frustration stemmed from feeling like the team “hadn’t played a complete game,” he said. “We haven’t scratched our surface. We haven’t played up to our potential.”
Clearly, the XFL recognized Nick Holley’s potential. He was working for a landscaping company when the league called him about a potential spot. He was chopping wood for the winter! “I had overalls on,” Holley remembered during today’s chat. Soon he was wearing the team’s #33 jersey, which he chose in honor of his father. Paul Holley wore the number during his high school playing days, Nick said.
Now, Nick was the one with a chance to shine. After making that incredible catch in Week 1, Holley gave an interview that quickly went viral.
The team made Holley a Twitter account after his interview went viral. He had never had an account before and is still figuring it out: “I still don’t know how to use it, to be honest.” He even had to ask his strength coach: “How do I make a tweet?” Thankfully, the team helped him out. “Yeah they made me a Twitter, and they were like, ‘You’re trending on Twitter.’ I’m like, ‘What does that mean?’” (It means you’ve become popular through Internet sharing. In Holley’s case, that meant a clip that’s been like 6,000 times and shared by over 700 people.)
Now, on the other side of a stellar five-game season, Holley credits hard work for the team’s success. “There is not an XFL team that worked harder than the Roughnecks. There is not a dang team that worked harder than us,” he declared.
Should the Houston Roughnecks be crowned XFL champions? “We have to be. It has to be, because you can’t have a first season and not have a championship. It’s almost like the whole season was undone. I need the board to get together,” he said. “We need that championship.”
What does the future hold? I hope good things. I’m waiting to see what opportunities come about. I thank the XFL for every opportunity I’ve gotten. I love the game, love the atmosphere. But at this time, I’m just kind of waiting,” he said.