J.J. Holliday has always been known a relentless player on the practice field and a dedicated observer in the film room. Even with his exemplary work ethic, though, Holliday has played in only 10 games over the past two seasons and has yet to record a reception.
Of course, Holliday was overshadowed by older, more experienced teammates during that time. Now, though, the stage is open for the junior to showcase his skills. With a new coaching staff in place, Holliday will have a second chance to make a lasting impression.
“I looked at this as a great opportunity to get (the new coaches’) attention,” Holliday said. “I started off badly with the other coaches, and it was great to get a fresh start.”
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Indeed, Holliday has definitely gotten their undivided attention.
“He has gotten stronger, he has great hands, he’s running good routes and right now (wide receivers coach) Alexander thinks he’s one of our best guys,” coach Todd Graham said this week. “So right now, he has a chance to start. So we are excited for him and the progress he’s made. He’s also a great kid and a guy that you can trust and is dependable.”
The Tucson native naturally appreciated the praise and the chance this coaching staff has given him thus far.
“I’ve had confidence in my abilities since they have gotten here,” Holliday said. “I am all in and am doing everything that they ask of me. For them to compliment me, (it) lets me know that I am making progress in becoming a better player. I just had to make some plays to get up there (on the depth chart), and I was confident they would give me the chance.
“I’m doing pretty well, better than I have done the past two years, but I can always get better. I need to lock in that starting spot and become a consistent playmaker.”
Even with all the personnel changes at the receiver position following the graduation of top receivers Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie, Holliday sees this relatively inexperienced group of players having success.
“We have a lot of speed — we lost a lot, but we gained a lot of playmakers,” Holliday claimed. “Between (Rashad) Ross, (Jamal) Miles and me, along with the freshmen, we have so much speed. We won’t have a problem making plays downfield.”
Holliday credits the hard work the team put in together over the summer for the optimism.
“We worked hard, on and off the field,” Holliday described. “As a team, we grew closer: everybody would hang out with each other and get to know one another while building relationships. It’s been different than the past two years, but this year a lot of people got close and we have great chemistry.”
While the 6-foot, 180-pound Holliday might not possess the big-play ability of some of the other wideouts, he’s been focusing on playing to his strengths.
“I am a very good route runner,” Holliday said. “I will always have that ball high and tight; it’s the worst feeling to drop that ball.
“Ball security is job security, especially with Coach Graham.”
Holliday believes Graham’s “high octane” offense will play to his abilities as well as those of his fellow receivers.
“As a good route runner, I think it definitely plays to my strengths,” Holiday commented. “I really like how we go down the field and all of the vertical pass plays. We will have the chance to make some big plays this year.”
And while Holliday said he cannot predict who the starting quarterback will be — Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly are competing for the job in camp — he knows the player ultimately chosen will have the respect of the offense and will lead the team with poise.
“They are all great leaders and are very confident in their abilities,” Holliday explained. “They all bring a great vibe to this team; it will be on us to help them as an offense. We can’t make mistakes around them.”