By Joseph Staszewski
Abraham Lincoln defensive tackle Thomas Holley dreaded his phone call more than a month ago to Florida football Coach Will Muschamp to tell him he was committing to Penn State.
Holley, a Queens native and Jamaica resident, had much better news to relay this time after Nittany Lions Coach Bill O’Brien left to lead the Houston Texans. He was decommitting from Penn State and heading to Florida.
“It was actually funny because I was calling Coach Muschamp and I was getting ready to tell him I was going to commit,” Holley said. “He was like, ‘Thomas, don’t pull my chain. Are you for real?’”
Holley’s world took a surreal turn in late December, less than two weeks after he gave his verbal commitment to Penn State and O’Brien. The coach’s exit, along with defensive line Coach Larry Johnson heading to Ohio State, left Holley searching for a new school even after O’Brien told Holley he wasn’t leaving before jumping ship.
“It was tough even when I was hearing about it and thinking that O’Brien was staying and he’s gone,” Holley said.
Added Lincoln Coach Shawn O’Connor, “He looked a little stressed out when O’Brien left.”
Holley spoke with new Nittany Lions Coach James Franklin, but did not want to go through the whole recruiting process again and try to build new relationships with National Signing Day just two weeks away. Holley, one of the nation’s top prospects, already had a close bond with Muschamp and Florida. The Gators were a close second to Penn State originally, but were further from home.
“It is just too difficult and too much,” Holley said about getting to know a new staff. “I said just stick to what you know.”
He said he has a chance to battle for a starting job right away on a Florida team that graduates a number of players on defense. Holley will also get to compete in the Southeast Conference, considered the best in college football.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Holley is the No. 3-ranked player at his position and 63rd overall in the nation by rivals.com. Holley, who had 67 tackles and seven sacks this season, helped lead Lincoln to the Public School Athletic League City conference football city title. He has played just 21 football games in his career after shifting his focus from basketball two years ago after transferring from Christ the King.
Holley competed along with some of the nation’s top players in the Under Armour All-American game in St. Petersburg, Florida Jan. 2. He helped lead his team to win and got to dump a water cooler full of Gatorade on head Coach Steve Mariucci. Holley thought the experience would only help him be ready for what lies ahead in his career.
“It’s just preparing me for college because that’s what you are going to be doing everyday, especially playing in the SEC at a school like Florida.”