Corey Holmes had his eyes set on two former high school All-American wide receivers as he visited MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and watched the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants 36-21 on Sunday.
Holmes, a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas wide receiver, envisioned himself playing on the same field as Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson and New York’s Hakeem Nicks one day.
“I tell myself all the time, if I continue to work hard, I could be there, playing on an NFL field,” Holmes said Tuesday at his high school after accepting his Under Armour All-America jersey.
Fate and family surrounded Holmes, a Notre Dame oral commitment, as he accepted an invitation to play in one of the country’s premier games. About 30 people were there, including two instrumental people in his life: his father, David, and Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo.
David Holmes, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, was a defensive back at Syracuse University during its wins in the Sugar Bowl in 1987 and Hall of Fame Bowl (now Outback Bowl) in 1988. Casullo, 36, was a fan and ball boy during David Holmes’ time at the school where his father, Bob, was special teams coordinator from 1985 to 1994.
“It’s funny how God has a plan for all of us,” Casullo said. “[Corey] and I talk about it all the time. I remember his Dad coming to talk to me when he was in eighth grade, giving me his highlight film. I told Coach [George] Smith, ‘We got to get this kid. He’s the future of this program.’ ”
Smith, now the school’s athletic director, stepped down from the head coaching position in 2011, handing the reigns over to Casullo.
“I knew he was going to be coached by a quality person,” David Holmes said. “Not just a quality coach, but a quality person. And you want your kid to be successful in life — period.”
David Holmes recalled his son’s desire to play in the Under Armour game while driving home from St. Petersburg in January after the company’s combine event at Tropicana Field. When Jan. 4 rolls around — almost a year to the date of the combine — Corey Holmes will be playing in the game at the same stadium.
“Corey’s one of those kids who is very determined and very focused on and off the field,” David Holmes said. “When he puts his mind to something, he strives for it and achieves it.”
Along with his father and Casullo, Corey Holmes thanked his teammates and family members including his mother, Carolyn, who couldn’t keep a smile off her face during the 30-minute presentation.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be anything,” said Corey Holmes, who plans to take just one official visit to Notre Dame from Oct. 18 to 20.
As the presentation came to an end, it offered David Holmes, now a major with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, some time for reflection.
“I had a short career, a short stint,” he said. “But it was a good experience to have that opportunity [to play] in college … and then to get drafted by Don Shula and then play with Dan Marino. But this trumps all of that when your kid is able to experience something like this, especially when [he’s] put a lot of work into this.