UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes talks like a guy who has been preparing to be a professional athlete his entire life.
He’s self-motivated and driven to achieve. He has perspective on success and failure. He understands the odds he faces in forging an NFL career.
Holmes has heard plenty from his father about what it takes to make it and the pitfalls that await on the path to success. His father is former NFL running back Darick Holmes, who spent a little over three seasons with the Buffalo Bills from 1995 to 1998.
“Coming from a football family, it made me the player I am today by instilling that grain of hustle, that grain of eternal drive,” Holmes said at the NFL scouting combine. “We’d go to Dave and Buster’s on a Saturday, get back about 1, wake up at 10 and go work out because my pops knew that you can never compromise your guard because of things you did beforehand.
“He always put in our ear that if you want to be the best, you’ve got to outwork the best,” added Holmes, who is a later-rounds prospect. “I always suck out knowledge from those who I feel like are great ones. I started living by their belief system and I started adding my code with it.”
Darick Holmes was a hard-running big back – 6-foot and 226 pounds – who the Bills drafted in the seventh round in 1995 out of Portland State. He had some good moments as a complement to Thurman Thomas. He rushed for 698 yards as a rookie in ’95 and 571 yards in ’96. He rushed 15 times for 87 yards in a playoff win over Miami in ’95.
But his adjustment to life after football in 2000 was difficult. A product of the mean streets of Pasadena, Calif., he was arrested in 2008 for running a tax-return scam, showing people how to fake documents to steal money from the IRS.
Then in 2009, he was hired by a friend to deliver money for an $80,000 marijuana purchase near Pasadena. He was robbed and shot seven times when he tried to escape.
Darick Holmes survived and turned his life around. He was spared from going to jail in part because of his work with underprivileged youth. He started a football training business in Pasadena called Proway Training, which has helped dozens of youth achieve college football careers.
Darnay Holmes was a five-star recruit out of high school and has always focused on his long-range goals.
“I’m the type of person, when my vision is vivid, my energy is going to align with it,” he said. “That’s just how it’s got to be in this world. You have to make sure you have a clear-cut vision, and then the price is going to be easy.”
Holmes graduated from high school a semester ahead of schedule, enrolled early at UCLA and earned a degree in African-American studies in 2 1/2 years. Last summer, he took a whopping 31 units. UCLA students need to average 22.5 units per semester to graduate in four years.
“Graduating in 2 1/2 years was something that I scripted from Day One,” he said. “Having an understanding of being a student-athlete, my main thing was attaining that degree.”
Holmes impressed as a freshman in 2017, starting 11 games and making three interceptions. There was a learning curve. In a 48-45 loss to Memphis, he was torched several times by Anthony Miller, who became a second-round pick of the Chicago Bears.
“I remember clearly going back to the sideline early in the game and thinking I hope they don’t go at me the next play, because I wasn’t mentally prepared for him,” Holmes said.
“I looked up and their mascot was dancing in my face,” Holmes said. “I was like, 'OK this is what college football is.' This is my third game in, and I understood that when preparation meets opportunity, you’re going to prevail. I wasn’t prepared for the opportunity. I claimed that lesson. I didn’t claim that loss. I claimed that lesson, and from there, I got more wisdom and did more film study.
“A lot of guys live their lives based on how their day went with practice. If their practice went good, they’re joyful. If their practice didn’t go too well, they’re not joyful. Now I’m living an even-keel life. I claim my victories and lessons the same way. At the end of the day, even if I lose, the world doesn’t end. Even if I win, I’m not at the top of the world. I live by the Bible and stay in my bag.”
Holmes, 5-9 3/4 and 195, led UCLA in interceptions in each of his three seasons and finished with eight pickoffs. He is strong, tough and a good tackler. He ran a solid 40-yard time of 4.48 seconds. He’s limited size and lack of length probably restricts him to a slot corner role. But he fared pretty well in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl.
His quest now is to become a second generation NFL player. He has seen video of some of his dad’s runs with the Bills.
“Yeah, he’s got that VCR tape and he’s going to make sure you sit down and watch that tape,” Holmes laughed. “He has some juice to him, for sure he did. I always knocked down his game, but once I saw that tape, I said, ‘OK, I got some of that from you.’ ”