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Thomas Holley's mother wasn't willing to let him play football -- until he came home with a concussion.
The 6-foot-4, 299-pound Queens native -- a four-star DT -- was not allowed to play until his junior year because his mother, Candace Benjamin Holley, was worried her son would get hurt. He was a standout basketball player at Middle Village (N.Y.) Christ the King until he came home with the head injury she feared.
"That is true," she said. "I was reluctant to have him play football. I didn't want to have him exposed to those types of head injuries.
"He played baseball and basketball since third grade and he really didn't show much interest in football until other people really started pushing him to play in the ninth grade. I had reservations because it was such a physical sport, but when he kept pushing -- and kept coming home with injuries from basketball -- I knew it was time for me to make a change and support him."
"He has big dreams and football has really expanded his opportunities," Candace Benjamin Holley said. "It is my responsibility to put my feelings aside; support him, and let him give it his best shot."
Now Holley, the No. 84 player in the Rivals100, has become one of the fastest-rising prospects in the country with more than 30 offers.
His Rivals.com profile didn't have a single story linked until the middle of February this year. It now has 47 in four months.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that once Holley was actually on the radar, it was obvious he would be a target of every major program.
"His film got out so late that it delayed everything for him," Farrell said. "Really though, once it was released he was getting three offers a day for the first week. It just happened to be that it didn't get out until after the season was over, but had anyone had his film in December or November, it would have all happened then. With him, it was just a matter of time."
Holley has been making the most of his opportunity. He has taken unofficial trips to Rutgers, Penn State and Syracuse. He also visited Miami and Florida and has trips to Ohio State and Florida State on the docket.
The remarkable rise was not a surprise to Holley. Once he was able to suit up, he was ready to go.
"It was natural as far as the physical part," he said. "My hardest part was putting on the pads. I didn't know how to put them.
"Getting into football and just learning it came pretty naturally to me. I'm a pretty quick learner."
His mother is still trying to take everything in. She admitted to still having mixed feelings about her only child going from obscure to in demand.
"I didn't imagine it'd blow up like this," she said. "I still have my fears about it, but I can't stand in his way. I have to brace myself.
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"I didn't imagine it'd blow up like this. I still have my fears about it, but I can't stand in his way. I have to brace myself."
- Candace Benjamin Holley
"It may just be because I am his mother but I always felt like Thomas was going to be something special but I wasn't ready -- and I am still not ready -- for it to be because of football. I am a basketball fan but he has been blessed with this opportunity.
"I know that once he sets his mind to something he can do it. He has a good network of friends and I have to trust his instincts. It is hard for me because I know that for him to become the person I know he can become I have to respect him and his decisions. I will have to be ready to cheer from the sidelines of a football field, too."
Meanwhile, Farrell believes that most every lineman could reap rewards from the basketball exposure Holley had.
"I think the guys in the trenches should be doing more than one sport," he said. "Between the leverage and hand-work that can be gained in wrestling or the footwork that can be improved with basketball, those guys on the line can all use some improvement in those areas."
Holley said that his footwork and agility are among his strengths but acknowledged that he still has a lot to work on.
"Because I am so strong I forget to use my hands a lot," he said. "A lot of technique stuff, too.
"Even though I am a late bloomer in the game I'm definitely not too far behind."
Farrell said that colleges see Holley for what he is but can project what he will become.
"He is raw and no one hides from that," Farrell said.
"He is a big, aggressive kid who is rough around the edges, but you can't teach kids that big to be that light on their feet. He has the feet that everyone is looking for from a defensive tackle."
Holley plans on majoring in criminal justice and doesn't know which school will land his services.
At the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour, he hinted that he wanted to head south to play football but that he knew his mother would have a hard time with that.
For her part, the matriarch of the family said that she has given her son guidance on making his decision.
"I don't think Thomas is destined to go south but it was necessary for him to make those visits, because he can do the close ones anytime," Benjamin Holley said. "Thomas has to be in a well-rounded situation. I want to make sure that he is getting a meaningful degree that will help him after he is done with football and I want him to play. Education is first because what you get into your brain cannot be taken away from you; but if he is going to leave the area and play football, then I want him to play."
Earning his time on the field is a goal that Holley believes is attainable. He doesn't see his late start as any hindrance to future success.
"A lot of people have been telling me that they're not worried about the fact I've only played one year because of the fact I learn so fast and because what they see is what intrigues them most," Holley said.
"I have barely scratched the surface."
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