Alex Holmes--USC's Renaissance Man
Nov. 6, 2002
When you look at a football player out on the field, it's sometimes easy to forget that he may have other things going on in his life besides football.
In the case of USC tight end Alex Holmes, there are plenty of things going on. Besides his steady diet of X's and O's, he is probably one of the more well-rounded athletes you'll ever meet. He credits his family upbringing and his academic background for giving him a natural curiosity about things.
"I didn't get heavily involved with sports until high school," said Holmes. "Before sports, academics was the biggest thing in my life. I couldn't play football until ninth grade because I was too big. My parents really stressed the importance of academics and that carried over into other things."
Holmes attended prestigious Harvard-Westlake High in Sherman Oaks, Calif., one of the highest-rated high schools in the nation academically. So when he wasn't bowling over opponents on the football field, he was cracking open books and learning Latin and Greek.
"I love learning the classic languages," said Holmes, who three times placed first on a national Latin exam. "My mother is a classicist and she always stressed that. My middle school and high school both offered Latin and, then later, I also took ancient Greek. They are really enjoyable languages. It really helped on the SATs too, because it helps you to find the root of words."
Holmes also found time to become quite adept at the violin and develop a keen interest in computers and their gadgetry.
"I played the violin for eight years," said Holmes. "I played it up until high school, then I had to quit because I just didn't have much time for it, plus my hands were getting beat up from playing football. I wasn't anything special, but I was first chair in my middle school junior symphony.
"As for computers, I am always into the latest hardware. I love to learn as much as possible about them whenever I can and I am always messing around on the internet."
Holmes was one of the most sought after prep tight ends in the nation in 2000. This was despite not playing football at all in 1999, since he was ineligible to compete in athletics. That was because he had to repeat some of his freshman year due to complications from a sinus infection that forced him to miss 13 weeks of school, basically an entire semester.
"People joked around about it, but having to take that semester over was never a big deal to me," said Holmes. "I thought it was really the only course of action I had. The worst part was not playing football my senior year."
But the year off did not dissuade colleges of his ability. Amazingly, Holmes' high school playing weight was a freakish 300 pounds and as a junior he caught 46 passes for 990 yards and eight touchdowns, including a 90-yarder.
Then-USC coach Paul Hackett said ,"He has the ability to redefine the tight end position."
It didn't hurt that one of his workout partners was NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson.
"He lived out in Agoura and he read an article about me in the L.A. Times and contacted the gym I was working out at to get in touch with me," said Holmes. "So we actually got to train together during my year off of football before USC. He is a great guy."
Holmes saw significant action as a backup tight end to Antoine Harris as a freshman in 2000, his first year at USC. Overall, he caught seven passes for 53 yards. He made The Sporting News Freshman All-American second team.
"My freshman year was the most humbling experience ever," said Holmes. "I came in with all types of hype. They all made a big deal about me. I was a freshman and I think I let it get to my head too much. I was just another guy out there."
Though he had a pretty solid freshman year, Holmes and the Trojan coaching staff knew that he could be far more effective if he were a little less well-rounded physically. They asked him to lose weight and by the time his sophomore year rolled around, he was a svelte 270. The result was quicker feet and better agility and 22 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns in 2001.
"I got more in shape and that helped," said Holmes. "But a lot of it had to do with just learning the game and developing as a player."
Though he says he loves playing tight end because "I love catching the ball and running people over," one of his best attributes is his blocking ability.
"I think if I'm good at it, it's because of my size," said Holmes. "Most tight ends are either just pass catches or just blockers. I think I'm a fairly decent mix of the two. But right now, blocking is the most improtant thing for our team and that's what they need me to do."
This season, Holmes has been called on to do a bit more blocking than he's used to, but he still has proven to be a clutch receiver. Through eight games, he has 14 catches for 142 yards. One of the highlights was a career-best five-catch game in a win versus California. Holmes has shown that he can really make the tough catch when called upon.
"From as early as I can remember, my dad spent time playing catch with me in the back yard," said Holmes, whose father, Mike, played at Michigan in the mid-1970s. "I have really big hands, so I think that has something to do with it. "
Whether he's driving a defensive end back 10 yards, catching a one-handed pass over the middle, or learning how to translate ancient languages, Holmes continues to come up big at USC.
by Chris Huston, Assistant Sports Information Director