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Studying his way to success: Tyler Holmes

Linebacker Tyler Holmes believes there's no such thing as good enough, which is why he makes sure he understand every play in the Minutemen's playbook.

Linebacker Tyler Holmes believes there's no such thing as good enough, which is why he makes sure he understand every play in the Minutemen's playbook.

Tyler Holmes slowly walks along the outside of the Massachusetts football team’s locker room. He walks slowly because his eyes are fixated on the open playbook in his hands, so it’s hard for him to see where he’s going.

“Hey Tyler, you have a minute for an interview?” Jason Yellin, UMass’ associate athletic director and the team’s media relations representative, asks.

“Yeah, let me just change real quick,” Holmes responds, as he takes a quick look away from his playbook at me, then back down to his playbook as he enters the locker room.

“He’s always studying,” Yellin laughs as I wait.

Despite being on a college campus, it is rare to see anyone walking around with his or her face buried in a book, never mind a playbook. Even outside the No. 12 Minutemen’s locker room, most players are walking with their playbooks in hand, but few of them are open.

Not with Tyler Holmes, UMass’ new middle linebacker.

“You always can get better. You never play a perfect game,” Holmes says. “College football is pretty hard with learning all the plays, so I just really study my playbook; make sure I know my assignments.”

So far, in just his sophomore year, Holmes seems to know all of his assignments. Through four games, the Blacksburg, Va., native leads the team with 32 tackles (tied for fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association), two interceptions and has two pass-break ups.

The work ethic and studying habits displayed by Holmes today were instilled in him back in his high school days playing for David Crist, father of UMass wide receivers coach, Brian Crist. At Blacksburg High School, Holmes received the rare opportunity to play at the varsity level midway through his freshman year and proved to his high school coach what he could do on the football field.

“He had an ability to understand the game so much easier and so much quicker I think than most folks do,” David Crist said of Tyler. “You really didn’t have to tell Tyler but one time, if he made a mistake, you would tell him what he did and seldom did it ever repeat itself anywhere else.”

Holmes first played corner in his freshman year, then moved to inside linebacker in his sophomore year under David Crist and soon was calling all of the plays for the defense.

It was a similar journey for Holmes once he got to UMass. After getting redshirted his freshman year, he found out that he was needed early in the season.

“I was just excited, I figured that definitely if they took my redshirt they would put me in the game,” Holmes says of losing his redshirt. “I played a lot of special teams and got a lot of game experience that has helped me out this year.”

After seeing some time his freshman year, including a start in the team’s final game of the season, Holmes took on a larger role in his sophomore year. With injuries sidelining senior Josh Jennings, Holmes had to fill in at middle linebacker and has been solid there in anchoring a Minutemen defense that ranks third in the CAA in points allowed per game, passing defense and total yards per game.

When Holmes makes his way out of the locker room, dressed in his maroon practice shirt and black pants, he stops for a brief interview. Talking in a soft and quiet manner, Holmes responds to each question with a sense of unselfishness, despite playing a large role in UMass’ near upset over Football Bowl Subdivision’s Kansas State and a 44-7 rout over Albany in the first two weeks of the season.

“We just want to keep playing hard, the CAA is tough so we just got to keep turning it up and it all starts this week with Rhode Island,” Holmes said before the team’s Week 3 contest with Rhode Island.

The sophomore also speaks modestly, even though in three straight starts, dating back to his start against Hofstra in the last game in 2008, he picked off three opposing passes, one in each game.

“He just had a unique ability to know where the ball is going to go and I think not everyone has that,” David Crist said of his former linebacker.

“He’s just gonna be at the right place at the right time, that is why he had three picks in his first three games, because he’s going to be at the right place at the right time,” Brian Crist added of Holmes.

Holmes’ streak of interceptions ended that week against URI, but it didn’t mean Holmes didn’t do what he always does. Holmes was still in the right place at the right time, but he just tipped the ball up so fellow linebacker Kurt Filler could grab the interception.

For some players, putting in as much time as Holmes does to study the game, whether it is watching film or memorizing his playbook, doesn’t necessarily turn into results on the field. But with Holmes, the work he puts in off the field translates onto the field.

“Some guys have a harder time translating from the classroom onto the football field, and Tyler is not one of them,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “Tyler takes all the knowledge he gets from the film work and from his studying the playbook and game-plan reports and puts it on the field and puts it to actual use and he’s done a great job with it.”

For Holmes, preparing himself for the next Saturday’s game is more about giving himself confidence than learning new plays. He has probably seen the plays he studies a hundred times and gone over them in film sessions over and over again, but Holmes makes sure he knows the plays inside and out.

“It definitely paid off, it helped me play with confidence, when I know my plays, I know my assignments, I know my checks, that all just helps me play with confidence and its all reaction,” Holmes says.

Holmes even admits to being nervous at times, from when he got called up to varsity in high school, to his first career start at UMass, but due to his game preparation he was always able to step up to the challenge.

“I remember being real nervous. Coach [Don] Brown use to come up to me and asked me if I was scared and I was like ‘No, I’m ready to go,’” Holmes said of his first career start. “I just wanted to prove to my teammates that I could be the man, and that I could step up and play my position and doing that in the Hofstra game, I felt like I got their trust for this year.”

Tyler gained their trust then, and continues to give his teammates reason to trust him as the season goes on, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get complacent.

“Sophomore year is going great as of now, I want to keep it up,” Holmes says. “Of course I expect myself to make a lot of plays, just perform at a high level. I set minor goals for myself beside the team goals and right now I’m lining up to those goals, but I definitely have to keep it rolling.”    

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at jlarnard@dailycollegian.com. 

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