You could see it on his face. You could read it his body language. As Jesse Holley lifted his arms in celebration after his game winning 77 yard catch against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, you could see it. The “it” was the happiness that you feel after coming to the end of a long journey. And Holley had finally arrived.
Holley’s journey began at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, New Jersey. During his high school years, Holley became the school’s all-time leader in receptions (106), receiving yards (1,449) and touchdown catches (27). He was good enough to be listed in the top-20 national wide receiver prospect ratings. Holley also played for the school’s basketball team and averaged nearly 20 points per game breaking the school’s career basketball scoring record.
After high school, Holley went on to attend the University of North Carolina where he earned a degree in Communications. Holley is eighth all-time in Tar Heel football history with 126 career catches and 1,760 receiving yards. He also scored seven touchdowns.
A true athlete, Holley made it as a walk-on onto the famed North Carolina Basketball team his sophomore year. That team, which included Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants, went on to win the National Championship that year (2005).
After college, Holley was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He was cut during training camp and later signed to the Bengals’ practice squad. Holley was part of the team for less then a month, when he was released.
The following summer, Holley latched on to a team called the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Less than a month later, the Lions cut him after their first pre-season game.
Officially an unemployed football player, Holley worked security and sold cell phones to get by. In early 2009, Holley tried out and won a spot as one of twelve contestants on Michael Irvin’s new reality TV series, 4th and Long. The show premiered on Spike TV in May of 2009. It’s prize was an invitation to the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp to compete for a roster spot. The show was filmed at the Cotton Bowl, with Irvin as the host, Joe Avezzano as the offensive coach and Bill Bates as the defensive coach.
At the end of 4th and Long, Irvin put his reputation on the line with GM and owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, by backing Jesse Holley as the winner of the series. Irvin promised Jones that Holley would not embarrass him or squander the unique opportunity.
Holley was invited to Dallas’ training camp later that year. During the last game of the preseason, Holley returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. He was subsequently waived by the Cowboys the very next day. But Holley had shown the coaching staff enough as a special teams player and receiver to warrant being signed to the practice squad.
At the end of the 2009-10 season, Holley was re-signed. After battling through another Dallas training camp, Holley was waived during final cuts. But once again, he had shown enough to get himself signed back onto the practice squad. Holley was promoted to the active roster in October of that year, but never recorded a catch.
Coming into this preseason, Holley was just hoping to make the Cowboy’s final roster. With the release of veteran wideouts Sam Hurd and Roy Williams, his chances got a whole lot better. And Holley took full advantage of that opportunity. In the preseason, Holley recorded 6 receptions for 81 yards which included a nice three catch, 51 yard performance against the Minnesota Vikings.
Holley finally made the Dallas Cowboys’ final roster this year as their fourth wideout on the depth chart. And all of his hard work and perseverance paid off huge for him, and the Cowboys, in Sunday’s win against the 49ers.
With less then four minutes left in the game, Holley made two back-to-back catches that helped send the game into overtime. Those catches were his first in the NFL.
And in that overtime, Jesse Holley made the biggest catch of the game and of his life. He celebrated with is arms lifted high in the air. He celebrated on his knees down along the sideline. He celebrated by crying, yelling and generally jumping around. If you missed it, check out the video below:
Some claim his celebration was over the top. I think it was more than appropriate if you were Jesse Holley. You were not simply watching the calculated celebration of some NFL diva. You were seeing a man reach the pinnacle of a dream that he has had his entire life. It truly was the stuff that dreams are made of. I could watch him celebrate all day. Congratulations, Jesse. If anyone deserves to celebrate the end to a very long journey, it’s you!