A Double Feature in “Holleywood”

By Terrance Turner

Nick Holley (left) and his brother Nate (right) pose with fellow Whitmer High alum Chris Wormley. (Photo via Twitter.)

Today, Twitter user @ArkenBrandSport posted the full video of the XFL’s Instagram Live with Houston Roughnecks wide receiver Nick Holley. The 44-minute clip can be viewed in full below:

Nick Holley’s brother Nate joined him during yesterday’s Instagram Live. The twin brothers discussed their competitive nature, supportive relationship, and the paths that led each of them to pro football success. Nick overcame five season-ending injuries to become a wide receiver for the Houston Roughnecks this year, catching back-to-back touchdowns in Week 4 and 5. Nate is a professional linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League (CFL). He was named Rookie of the Year in November, after a season with 100 tackles and a sack. But the brothers don’t allow each other to get big-headed.

“After he won Rookie of the Year, I called him and said, ‘You still ain’t s–t.’ Click. Hung up,” Nick recalled on IG Live. He added that Nate had done the same to him after one of Nick’s touchdowns. But underneath the jibes and jousting, the two brothers support each other.

“He’s very deserving of everything he’s gotten,” Nate said when interviewed on Live. “I think he can perform at the highest level, week in and week out, just as I believe that about myself.”

The conversation was reminiscent of their joint interview with the Garage Apartment (posted above). On March 7, I joined H’Dari Jones (from Garage Apartment Media) to interview Nick and Nate Holley on their careers and sibling rivalry. A lightly edited Q&A follows below. 

Was football a part of your early life?

Nick answered first: “Yeah. Competing is always a part of our life, no matter what it is. So we started playing at a young age, one-on-one, and going at each other. He was more of a defensive and I was more of an offensive guy, and obviously I won more games,” Nick laughed. “But we were going at it all the time.” 

“Let’s just put this straight,” Nate deadpans. “That’s the first time I ever let him go first. I always go first, but since this is his show and he’s padded up, I’mma let him go that time. That’s why I let him answer. But yes, always competitive. Started in the backyard. I think we had some Michigan football helmets on — plastic. Plastic helmets, and we had the jersey. We’d throw the ball way up in the air; the other guy would catch it. We had one-on-one football in our own backyard. We kind of had constraints and our own rules, but that’s kind of where it all started.” 

Were you guys athletic in high school and middle school?

Nick: “Well, yeah. We went to high school together, went to college together. Did really well in high school, did pretty well in college — he [Nate] actually finished three years in a row, leading the nation in solo tackles, so he was kind of an animal. And then we ended up going to the Rams together. So we played all the way up through it, together.” 

“Every level,” Nate says. “We’ve been blessed enough to play at every level.” (They were both part of the Rams squad in 2018.)

How did it feel when you had to split off and go in different directions?

“It’s different and it’s weird,” Nick says, “because we’re used to always being on the same team and cheering the other one on. But the love and support never went [away]. I’ve watched every last one of his games when he was out at Calgary in the CFL, and he’s watched every one of mine,” Nick said. “So it’s almost like we’re there in spirit.”

Nate says: “I was just going to say it’s different. Like he said, it’s awesome to be on the same team to where we can come off the sideline, kind of tell each other what we saw and what we were thinking on a certain given play. You know, we’d kind of collaborate after each drive, and [when] each of us kind of needed a little pick-me-up, we always had that there. Now, it’s just learning to be a little different in our warm up routine; we don’t have nobody to play catch with like we do in our warmup routines,” he said. “But we enjoy ourselves. We enjoy this game.” 

“We have fun,” Nick said. 

“Like he said, I haven’t missed a game this year,” Nate said. “Last weekend I was on a Summerville trip, and I watched it in the middle of nowhere at a bar, up on the screen. And I just had the whole bar rooting for him.”

What do you do better than him and vice versa? 

“He don’t have any moves,” Nick smiled. “I got a couple moves. He can tackle.” Nate dissolved into laughter. Speaking of moves, one example was the “Crazy Legs” dance Nick did after the Week 5 touchdown.

“That’s my sister’s move,” Nick admitted, sparking more laughs. “That’s why I did it. But now, I think we are [both] all around pretty good.” 

Nate answers: “If you broke it down, though, I think the only thing he’s got me on, though, is like, financials. Like,  numbers — he’s a good numbers guy. You can have that one,” he told Nick. “But I respect him too much as an athlete, you know, as we’ve grown up… I can’t take that from him you know people ask us, ‘Who’s better? Who’s better at the game?’ For me, I have too much respect for him and how he plays the game to be able to say me. But also, you know, obviously I have enough respect for myself to say him. So that, for me, is the best answer.” 

What was your reaction when you saw his touchdown in Week 4, Nate? 

“Last game, I watched at home by myself with a fire lit. So it was just me. I went crazy. I actually had — it was kind of funny — I had like, a little twin intuition. I’ve got a video of it and everything: I stood up and I said he’s going to score on this play right now. and soon enough, as the ball was snapped and I hit record, he scored. I don’t know what it was — twin intuition, you can call it…”

They say one twin can kind of sense what’s going on with the other… 

“You know, there is some truth to that,” Nate began. Nick added: “We spend so much time together, we know what each other’s thinking. And we kind of have that chemistry to where, if he’s behind me and my eyes are shut, I can throw him a ball, ‘cause I know where he’s at.”

Nick played different positions throughout his career; did Nate do the same?

“Yeah. I mean, I was a basically — safety/linebacker role. Played safety in college, played linebacker the rest of my life. Played linebacker in the CFL, so I’ve had to change positions in that aspect. IN high school, I did play offense and defense, so I’ve changed, kinda there. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve kind of been that hybrid role of safety and linebacker. so for me that’s been the biggest change just having to make that bump, either: ‘OK, now I’m out an open space,’ or ‘OK, now I’m down with the big boys and I got to play a little earlier, right? So for me that was the biggest change or difference.” 

Nick, describe to me what you saw on that touchdown catch. 

“Uh, defenders?” he joked. “Basically, we have a play call that it involves me reading the coverage, reading the defense, and PJ reading the coverage and reading the defense as well. He had a flat concept as well. Two guys from the alley just kind of miscommunicated and broke the coverage and came down. I actually thought that PJ had already thrown the flat. I turned around and looked, and he still had the ball in his hands. He saw me; I went out one-on-one, there was a lot of grass…” 

Did you know what your move was going to be? 

“No, I didn’t. You can’t think about it. You just react and you keep moving. I knew if I got tackled one-on-one I would have never heard the end of it, so I had to make sure that I got in the end zone.”

Watch the full video below:

Inside Nick Holley’s Revealing Interview on Instagram Live

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.