High School Sports

Tragedy has followed him all his life, but this player has found a way to persevere

Strong safety Courtney Holmes, right, covers his man during Columbus football practice.
Strong safety Courtney Holmes, right, covers his man during Columbus football practice. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Football coaches don’t often regard sophomores as their most pivotal players.

But Courtney Holmes, a strong safety on the Columbus football team, isn’t your typical 10th grader.

“Kids don’t come by very often that have ability and want to lead,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “He’s the glue of this team.”

Merritt was referring to Holmes’ value on the field where he hopes to continue to lead the Explorers closer to a state championship Friday afternoon when Columbus plays Miami High in the Region 4-8A final at Tropical Park at 1 p.m.

But at home is where Holmes had no choice but to become a leader ever since he was nine years old.

At that young age, Holmes’ mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver.

Ever since, his grandmother, Bertha Fulton, a mother of seven, raised him with help from their extensive family.

Unfortunately, his mother’s death wasn’t the only tragedy in Holmes’ family.

One of his aunts died in her sleep two years ago.

holmes
Courtney Holmes

And last year in July, his aunt and two of his cousins were shot and killed by his aunt’s boyfriend at their house in southwest Miami-Dade. The shooter was later arrested after fleeing to Georgia.

“I was close with the guy who did it, and I remember thinking I wanted to quit football when it happened,” Holmes said. “It destroyed me.”

I was close with the guy who did it, and I remember thinking I wanted to quit football when it happened. It destroyed me.

Courtney Holmes, Columbus strong safety after his aunt and two of his cousins were shot and killed by his aunt’s boyfriend

Holmes, who is a cousin of Atlanta Falcons’ star running back and Miami Central graduate Devonta Freeman, grew up in the Richmond Heights area and played his Pop Warner football with the Palmetto Raiders.

With his father serving in the U.S. Army, Holmes said he spent his early years living with his mother, five brothers and a sister.

That all changed one night when he was nine years old and learned his mother had been killed.

“I just remember someone came to tell us, and I remember a lot of people crying in the house when it happened,” Holmes said. “It didn’t really hit me until I was like 12 or 13 years old, I used to cry a lot in school.”

Fulton, a former school bus aide, raised her own seven children plus six of her grandchildren and took charge of Holmes from that day forward.

When Holmes reached high school age, Fulton was all for his enrollment at Columbus.

“It’s really made him better with that school having such a positive effect on him,” said Fulton, who is 65 now and has retired but still takes care of the house with Holmes’ help.

At one point following the tragedy involving his aunt and cousins, Fulton said Holmes considered leaving Columbus, but chose to stay.

Merritt said Holmes immediately made an impression on the Explorers coaches and teachers at the school with his mature personality.

Holmes, who is a cousin of Atlanta Falcons’ star running back and Miami Central graduate Devonta Freeman, grew up in the Richmond Heights area and played his Pop Warner football with the Palmetto Raiders.

On the field, Holmes (5-10, 180 pounds) converted from the outside linebacker position to strong safety and has become one of the team’s top defenders.

Holmes already has an offer from the University of Michigan and Merritt believes more will follow as other top schools have already shown interest.

Merritt said Holmes is well on his way to following in the footsteps of some of Columbus’ great defensive backs like former University of Miami standout Deon Bush and current UM freshman Trajan Bandy.

“[Holmes] has a personality and a respectful personality but he likes to have fun,” Merritt said. “He’s admired quite a bit by his coaches. The Columbus community, as a whole, has put their arms around that kid and they want to see him make it. Teachers, when they heard the story, offered support and wanted to help him and that’s because he’s the type of kid he is.”

On Wednesday night, Holmes was by Fulton’s side in the kitchen, helping her set up the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“He’s right next to me now peeling potatoes and helping me cook,” Fulton said. “I’m making potato salad, macaroni and cheese, turkey with dressing, turnips, collard greens, ham. I already cooked 10 pies, which isn’t as much as I normally make. But Courtney knows how to cook. I made sure he knew how to do everything around the house since he was a young boy.”

Fulton plans to watch that little boy she took in and watched grow up take another step in his rise to football excellence when she attends the Explorer’s playoff game.

I’m so proud of him and what he’s been able to do. He’s such a good young man. I’ve never had a problem with him. We went through a lot of losses and it was so devastating for him. He’s been pushing so hard to succeed. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

Bertha Fulton, Holmes’ grandmother

“I’m so proud of him and what he’s been able to do,” Fulton said. “He’s such a good young man. I’ve never had a problem with him. We went through a lot of losses and it was so devastating for him. He’s been pushing so hard to succeed. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

Having his family by his side is something Holmes said he never stops being grateful for and he always remembers those he’s lost.

“When I’m on the field I feel like my cousins are like my angels talking to me,” Holmes said. “When I see my grandmother in the crowd, it motivates me and I think about my mom and my aunt and my cousins every day. I still see them in my dreams. I feel like I always need to go hard for them.”

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