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Carlyle Holiday: Taking one for the team

Joe Hettler | Friday, November 12, 2004

Carlyle Holiday will do anything to help his team – even if that’s a baseball team.

As a senior at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, Texas, Holiday was asked by the baseball coach to play in the final eight games of the season. Holiday, who had never played high school baseball up to that time or swung a bat in years, accepted the offer. He homered in his first at-bat and finished the season with five round-trippers while also helping his team with good defensive play in centerfield.

In 2003, the Cincinnati Reds selected Holiday in the 44th round of the Major League Baseball draft.

“I was a big hitter,” Holiday says with a smile.

Putting the team first has always been one of Holiday’s best traits. The fifth-year wide receiver has seen his shares of ups and downs during his career at Notre Dame – from struggling as a starter in 2001 to leading the Irish to an 8-0 to start in 2002 to losing the quarterback job last season to changing positions heading into the 2004 campaign.

But through all that change, the one constant has always been Holiday’s team first, ‘me’ second attitude.

Learning on the job

Holiday came to Notre Dame as a freshman in 2000 after a successful high school career where the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder threw for 719 yards and rushed for another 876 as a senior out of a makeshift option-style offense.

“They called it option but really it was just having me drop back and run,” Holiday said. “We had a couple options plays in there.”

When he signed with Notre Dame, over Nebraska and Texas A&M, Holiday knew there would be much competition for playing time. The Irish already had freshman quarterbacks Matt LoVecchio and Jared Clark. Rather than fearing the competition, Holiday embraced it.

“It was fun for me,” he said. “Those [other quarterbacks] I had met before when they visited. We all visited together and we became real close. Other people may look at it as a competition [and] we did, but at the same time it was a friendship.”

Even after seeing LoVecchio win the starting job and lead Notre Dame to a 9-3 season in 2000 and a Fiesta Bowl berth, Holiday continued working on his game, waiting for an opportunity.

Sure enough, in 2001 with Notre Dame off to a shaky 0-2 start, Holiday earned his first start against Texas A&M. Holiday would start the remaining eight games of the team’s 5-6 season. While he was disappointed the Irish didn’t have more success, Holiday knows the playing time was valuable in terms of learning and game experience.

“It was just a great season for me overall, just getting adjusted to playing college football,” Holiday said. “Playing with some of the big time guys that left this program and learning from them, it helped for next season. It was a big learning experience. There were ups and downs and it made me stronger.”

Tasting success … for a short time

Then-first year head coach Tyrone Willingham stuck with Holiday to start the 2002 season and the move paid off. Holiday took the Irish to an 8-0 start, including an upset win against Florida State in Tallahassee in late October.

In that game Holiday, threw for 185 yards on 13-of-21 passing and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score to receiver Arnaz Battle on the game’s first play.

Holiday finished the 2002 season throwing for 1788 yards, 10 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The Irish, however, couldn’t finish their magical season undefeated, losing to Boston College at home after Holiday left that game injured. Notre Dame would be blown out by Southern California on the road to end the regular season, before Holiday again went down, this time against North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl. The Irish couldn’t recover without their starting quarterback and again lost in blowout fashion, this time 28-6 to the Wolfpack.

Still, for Holiday and the Irish, a 10-3 season with a first-year head coach was a giant step from the dreadful 2001 season.

“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to go 8-0, especially at a place like this,” Holiday said. “That was one of the more positives things that I’ve been through since I’ve been here at Notre Dame. It was remarkable. [We were] sorry it didn’t end up the way we wanted to, but starting 8-0 was a big thing for this whole program.”

Handling the hardships

There was every reason to believe Notre Dame would have another successful season in 2003, after the 2002 year. But things went wrong in a hurry for the Irish, especially the offense.

After a comeback victory against Washington State in the season opener, Notre Dame traveled to Michigan and got spanked 38-0, the most one-sided loss in series history.

Holiday, pressured by Michigan defenders the entire game thanks to an inexperienced offensive line, finished just 5-for-14 for 55 yards and an interception. He was pulled for freshman Brady Quinn in the fourth quarter.

Things didn’t get any better the next week against Michigan State, when Holiday struggled in a Spartan victory. The quarterback ended the game just 10-for-25 for 99 yards and two interceptions.

The Michigan State game was the last straw for Holiday. Quinn was named the starter for the next game and would remain in that role for the final eight games of the season.

Through those three weeks, Holiday took all kinds of criticism from media reporters to alumni to fans and even students. Shirts popped up that said “The Holiday is over” on the front and “Quinn to Win” on the back.

Yet through all the hard times, Holiday kept a positive attitude and patiently answered every question at every press conference, no matter how difficult that may have been.

“You realize whenever you lose its going to come down to the quarterback and the coach and I realized that,” Holiday said. “My thought was just to keep everything positive and try not to tear this team apart and do something that would hurt your reputation. I realized certain things were happening. … We weren’t playing as well as we wanted to. But [I learned] to just let it ride because there are others things besides football that are important.”

Holiday took the bulk of the criticism for the inept offense, when other factors were also at work. The young offensive line struggled to give him time in the pocket. The running backs couldn’t find any yardage on the ground, which put more pressure on the passing game. But Holiday never placed blame anywhere but on himself, even if he knew the criticism was unfair.

“It was definitely a combination of things,” Holiday said. “We were young in areas. There are just so many other areas that go into losing a football game than just a single player.”

Willingham said he’s been more than impressed with the manner in which Holiday handled the heavy criticism from others.

“[H]e has really handled this situation with the most character of any young man that I’ve seen in a while,” Willingham said. “He’s stood tall, he’s never backed away from any situation that he’s been pressed into. With that, I have genuine respect for him.”

Making the switch and returning for another season

After losing the starting job to Quinn, Holiday was asked late in the 2003 season whether he was interested in switching positions.

“I was on the sideline and they just wanted to find a way to get me into the football game,” said Holiday, who had played quarterback since the age of 6. “So [the coaches] said, ‘Do you want to go to receiver?’ and towards the last couple games I decided to switch.”

The switch was anything but easy for Holiday. He had to learn how to block, run routes and catch the football. The change didn’t pay huge dividends for Notre Dame or Holiday as the new receiver caught just two passes for 13 yards.

Despite his best efforts, the transition was a slow one for the former quarterback.

“It was hard. I didn’t really get adjusted to it until this fall,” Holiday said. “It really took me awhile.”

With a year remaining, Holiday decided to apply for a fifth-year and contribute to the Irish in 2004. After seeing another quarterback-converted-to-receiver Arnaz Battle have success in 2002, Holiday hoped to follow suit.

This season, Holiday has been the primary punt returner and has seen some action as a wide receiver. Heading into the Pittsburgh game, he has two receptions for 21 yards. Despite not putting up the numbers he would have liked, Holiday has tried to help the team in other ways.

“The season has been great,” Holiday said with his usual optimism. “I have not played as much as I wanted to or caught as many balls, but I still have those opportunities to get on the field and help the team out. Even though I’m not playing a lot and I’m a fifth year and that’s what I came back to do, other players can see that and stay strong when they’re not playing as much as they want.”

No one should be surprised by that attitude. Holiday has been putting Notre Dame’s football team first for the past five years.