Fresh Meadows defensive tackle finds success on gridiron

Fresh Meadows native Thomas Holley, who plays football at Lincoln High School, has scholarship offers from a number of colleges. Photo by Steve Solomonson
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Thomas Holley is an example that anything can happen when you try something new.

The Fresh Meadows native knew little about football, only that he wanted to play the sport, when he transferred from Christ the King to Lincoln last fall.

The 6-foot-4, 295-pound basketball lifer was just looking to add a sport and get a fresh start after leaving CK for his junior year. Instead of finding a hobby, he found a new passion and college scholarship offers from nearly every major football program in the country.

“When I got into football, I just fell in love with it,” Holley said.

College coaches fell for him and his potential after watching a highlight tape of Holley’s eight games and seeing a photo of the towering defensive tackle, Railsplitters Coach Shawn O’Connor said.

He has offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, the University of Southern California, Florida, Florida State, Ole Miss, Miami, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Vanderbilt and Baylor in addition to locals UConn and Rutgers, among others.

“He’s probably got everybody’s name in the Top 10 right there,” O’Connor said.

It makes Holley, who was already invited to the prestigious Under Armour All-American game, in line to be the next big football prospect from New York City. He joins recent All-Americans such as Lincoln’s Ishaq Williams (Notre Dame), Thomas Jefferson’s Ebenezer Ogundeko (Clemson) and Curtis’ Dominic Easley (Florida) in recent years.

The attention has come as a shock to Holley. He didn’t think that level of school would be interested in him, but he was daring enough to get out of his comfort zone and is being rewarded for it.

“I never expected to get the attention I got,” he said. “I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

He wouldn’t be here without his basketball past. O’Connor said college coaches see a kid who has tremendous natural size and strength, who also has an agility not often found in someone his size. Holley attributes his excellent footwork to his years on the hardwood playing basketball, which he still plays at Lincoln.

“When you can find kids that are that size and can move — it’s not easy to find kids like that,” O’Connor said.

Holley is also a high 80s-average student who picks things up quickly. He’s gotten into the weight room regularly for the first time in his life and has worked extensively on his technique. Last season Holley bull-rushed just using natural instincts.

“Once I get those things, I’ll be an ever more dominant player than I already am,” he said.

Holley isn’t going to make a college decision based on a school’s prestige. He is looking for a place with good academics that will also take the time to work with him to reach his potential.

“You can hear the big name, but it may not be for you,” he said.

Football ended up being for him.

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