August 10, 2013 10:01:27 PM
STARKVILLE - In a practice setting Mississippi State University junior tight end Christian Holmes embodies the title of man without a country.
To a majority of his football teams in the Bulldogs program, he is a 220-pound tight end hybrid player learning a new position so he can participate in games and help contribute to wins. On occasion to his linebacker teammates, who he sat in a positional meeting with for three years, he is the opposition, the enemy.
And those linebackers remind him of that fact.
"We will still talk some trash with him in practice to let him know he shouldn't have switched sides but after we're done with practice, we're so happy he's immediately helping the team," MSU senior linebacker Deontae Skinner said Saturday.
Skinner, a Noxubee County product, came to MSU in the same recruiting class as Holmes but the Puckett High School wasn't able to find playing time at linebacker so he came to MSU coach Dan Mullen expressing his desire to play more.
"Coach Mullen and I talked about it during the middle of this season and it was a iffy call to actually try it and make the move," Holmes said. "It's a little different in college
playing any type of receiver position because I hadn't run a route in years."
Holmes' polite hazing from the linebacker group, the one he betrayed in order to wear a maroon offense jersey in practice, started in the preparation for the 2013 Gator Bowl when he first began to learn the tight end position. The needling from teammates is in good fun however as Holmes, who is nicknamed Turtle because of his then 6-foot-1, 240-pound body type, is one of the more liked and popular players on the MSU team.
"We've all been razzing on (Holmes) for making the switch to offense because he wanted the spotlight of getting passes because he's such a humble guy to begin with," MSU then-senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence said. "The serious football thing about it is he has great hands for a linebacker so I think he's athletic enough for it to work real well if he gets everything down."
As a two-way player in high school, Holmes had 388 yards receiving and nine touchdowns as a tight end while helping lead Puckett to a 11-2 record in 2009.
Holmes had 11 total tackles in 12 games this season in his second season in the linebacker depth chart as a backup at all three positions in the MSU defense. Holmes had 18 tackles last season including six versus the University of Arkansas and University of Tennessee at Martin.
"Every day it's about learning something new for me and that's exciting," Holmes said. "I wasn't sure how well I could do this switch but I wanted to help the whole team. Now I'm excited and curious about what I can learn and pick up in practices."
Holmes, who said Saturday he still defines his role on the football team at MSU as "special teams player", will likely start the 2013 season behind a pair of juniors at tight end in Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill. However, Holmes' presence in the meeting room with tight ends coach Scott Sallach gives MSU a longer list of athletes in that specific spot.
"It makes you focus as a coach to put specific kids in the right situation to succeed," Sallach said. "I love it because in my opinion, outside of our quarterback Tyler Russell, the guys who know the most about our offense are the tight ends."
One of the things Holmes did to impress the coaching staff he could handle the move from defense to offense is shed 30 pounds this summer by just "eating better and taking care of my body in a more efficient way".
"Now I just need to adjust to putting my hand in the ground because with my new body I feel like I can run well and I feel good about myself," Holmes said. "Normally in football they ask us to get bigger and you see a new person. I feel like I'm back in high school again."
The main issue through the first two weeks of fall camp for Holmes is finding that love for the tight end position because mentally the challenge of figuring out your identity for any college student is difficulty. Normally college students are trying to figure out where they belong or see themselves in the world is hard enough. Through three years, Holmes said he didn't know where belonged on the 120-foot long and 160 feet wide football field.
"He does a great job right now in drills and I've always known him to be a hard worker so that's a pleasure to coach," Sallach said. "In a team setting with 21 other people on the field, he naturally reverts back to never having played the position before."
Sallach's assessment of Holmes' proficiency at the hybrid tight end and fullback spot of Mullen's spread-option offense isn't a surprise to the coaching staff at all. What Mullen and the staff, specifically Sallach in the meeting room, is hoping for in 2013 season is his athletic ability will lead him while he studies the nuances of the position.
"We tell him it's okay because he has the skill set already but it's about translating those skills to a new objective on the field in games," Sallach said. "He'll get it but some things he can help us with right now were things he's had long before he got to Mississippi State."
If and when Holmes makes a big play or even scores a touchdown for MSU in 2013, the first group of players celebrating with him might be his old friends at linebacker. They know eventually on Saturdays they'll all have the same colored jerseys on.
"He is such a weapon as a athlete that it's just some way for him to be on the field to help us," Skinner said. "We support his decision really, but don't let him know that."