UF FOOTBALL

Lineman Holley scouted on basketball court


Florida incoming freshman defensive lineman Thomas Holley lines up for Brooklyn Abraham Lincoln on Oct. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 9:55 p.m.

Florida football coach Will Muschamp traveled to New York last year to attend a basketball game.

He wasn't there to watch the Knicks.

“I love to go see a kid either wrestle or play basketball,” Muschamp said. “That's one of my best evaluations.”

Muschamp was in The Empire State evaluating Thomas Holley.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound athlete still remembers that night.

“When he came to my basketball game, and he was really happy to see the way I moved on the court,” Holley said. “He told me he saw quickness, strength and speed. I also moved laterally, which is one thing a lot of big guys can't do. I had the ability to jump, too. He said all that will translate to the football field.”

At the time, Holley was new to the football field himself.

He was a top-20 national hoops prospect in middle school, and some basketball scouts labeled him as “the next Shaq.”

Holley starred as a freshman and sophomore at Christ the King High School in Queens, but there was one problem.

“I just stopped growing,” he said, “and there aren't many 6-4 power forwards in the NBA.”

Before Holley transferred to Brooklyn Abraham Lincoln, one of his basketball coaches encouraged him to give football a try. He had interest in the sport as a fifth-grader, but his mother, Candace, was against it.

“Basketball became my whole life after that,” Holley said. “I also did baseball, soccer and swimming growing up. I did a variety of sports, so I was really athletic and took advantage of it.”

“When I was young, though, everybody told me, 'Thomas, you should be playing football.' My mom just never let me. But she came around once we realized I had to do something different. From there, it just took off.”

Holley had to complete the 15 mandatory practices before suiting up for Abraham in its fourth game of 2012.

He scored on his first play from scrimmage, scooping up a fumble and returning it for a touchdown. Holley finished his junior year with just eight games played, but offers started pouring in once his film got out.

One of those was from Florida, and Muschamp went to check him out on the hardwood after watching his football highlights.

“I think basketball a lot of times is your best evaluation, to see a guy run up‑and‑down the court, change direction, sync his hips, explode off,” Muschamp said. “You see him come quick off the floor, have a lot of hand‑eye coordination to be able to use their hands in the pass rush and things.

“He plays on Abraham Lincoln's basketball team in Brooklyn, which says a lot to be on that starting five where I think three guys are signing Division I off of that team. It tells you what kind of athlete he is.”

Abraham won the Public Schools Athletic League city championship in basketball last year with Holley. As a senior, he led Lincoln to a PSAL city championship victory in his first and only full season of high school football.

“What a turnaround it's been from the first game he played in his junior year to the championship game of his senior season,” said Shawn O'Connor, Holley's coach. “We played in a big setting at Yankee Stadium with a large crowd, and he performed incredibly.”

The Under Armour All-American flipped to Florida in January after the coaching change at Penn State, and now he's ready to make his mark with the Gators.

“The opportunity there is tremendous for me to come in and play as a freshman,” Holley said. “The coaches say they see a mix of Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd in me. But hopefully I can do more than just be like them.

“The people you look up to, you always want to be better than them. That's what I strive for. I want to dominate my freshman year, become one of the faces of the SEC and get ready for the NFL draft. I always like to set goals, and those are mine.”

Muschamp believes Holley hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential.

“I like guys like him because, again, he's just going to continue to get better and better,” Muschamp said. “The more times he sees blocking schemes, he reacts to those. He's going to continue to improve, continue to get better as opposed to maybe some players that have been playing their whole life, they've been in a weight program since the seventh grade and now you're going to get him to college, how much better is that guy going to get?

“They've kind of plateaued. They're not going to get a whole lot better, and some players you have to be careful about where they are. Their genetic ceiling is kind of maxed right now. (Holley) is nowhere near his.”

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