High School Football

Columbia football star Holmes hoping to catch on at Illinois

Columbia senior Jordan Holmes dives for the endzone during a playoff game in 2016. The 6-foot, 175 wide receiver took a pass on football and basketball scholarships at small schools to be a preferred walk-on at Illinois.
Columbia senior Jordan Holmes dives for the endzone during a playoff game in 2016. The 6-foot, 175 wide receiver took a pass on football and basketball scholarships at small schools to be a preferred walk-on at Illinois. Derik Holtmann

Jordan Holmes could have been a two-sport star at a Division II school. But the Columbia High senior instead decided to chase his dream.

Holmes, a 6-foot, 175-pound receiver, has accepted a preferred walk-on invitation from the University of Illinois football program. His decision means there will be no more time to play basketball, his other passion.

“I definitely thought about that a lot,” said Holmes, a high-scoring point guard. “I’ve loved basketball ever since I started playing it. These last 10 or 12 games, I’m going to go out there and play loose, have fun and enjoy the rest of the season with all my friends and all my brothers.

“It was a pretty difficult decision, but I really believe that I’ve made the right decision — choosing Illinois for football.”

Holmes played three seasons for the Eagles and had 149 catches for 2,188 yards and 22 touchdowns. As a junior, he had 62 catches for 1,020 yards and 12 TDs.

Holmes said the Illini “want me to be a slot wide receiver.”

“Little quick stuff through the middle. Line up with the linebackers,” said Holmes, who was recruited by student assistant Zach Grant, of Rochester, a former receiver at Illinois. “It’ll be a good situation for me.”

Four of Illinois’ five leading receivers will return next season in Ricky Smalling, Louis Dorsey, Mike Dudek and Trenard Davis. Sophomore Cam Thomas is the projected starter at quarterback.

A preferred walk-on does not receive financial assistance.

“It’s a guaranteed spot on the team, but there’s just no (money) that comes from it, so you have to pay for everything,” Holmes said. “I feel bad for my parents, but I feel like this is the right spot for me.”

Holmes, however, could earn a scholarship if he is able to impress coach Lovie Smith and the rest of the coaching staff. The fact that the Illini were interested in him in the first place is a good beginning.

“I’m not guaranteed anything,” said Holmes, who will major in business. “I’m going to go up there and grind and work and get bigger and stronger and faster and see where everything falls. ... It’s a dream come true. It’s unbelievable to have this opportunity.”

Holmes’ older brother, Jonathan, is a walk-on basketball player at the University of Arkansas. He has played in seven games this season for the Razorbacks and is averaging 2.3 points. Last year, he participated in six games.

Lebanon-based McKendree was on Jordan Holmes’ trail in football and basketball. Truman State was interested in him for football. Holmes had an earlier offer from Air Force to play football.

There also were varying levels of interest from Western Michigan, Boise State, South Dakota, David Lipscomb, Vermont, Lafayette, Monmouth, Dartmouth, Indiana State and Navy.

“I was getting talked to by all those coaches,” Holmes said. “Some teams fell off, but then I gained a couple of others, like Truman State football. They started getting on me really hard. So did McKendree. And then Illinois College as well; they were really pushing for me.”

Holmes could face a redshirt season at Illinois. It would enable him to build his body in the weight room and become acclimated to the program.

Jordan Holmes
Columbia senior Jordan Holmes reaches (in back) will be a preferred walk-on at the University of Illinois. The Illini hope to use him as a slot receiver. Derik Holtmann photo

“With the weight program they have up there, I would be a different man just after one month,” Holmes said. “It’s all up to the coaching staff at that point. If they feel like it’s best for me to redshirt my first year, then I’m all in with it. I’ll just go hit the weights, be on the practice squad and help the team out. But if they want me to go in there and play, I’m going to do whatever they tell me to do.”

Holmes said a conversation with his parents, David and Tracey, was influential in his decision to accept the offer from Illinois.

“They said, ‘This is the right fit for you because when we talk about it, it’s just a different emotion that comes from you,’” Jordan Holmes said. “I really believe Illinois football is the spot for me. My dad and all three of his brothers went to Illinois. Since I was little, I’ve been (a fan of) Illinois. ... I think I made my dad proud with this decision because I know he loves the Illini and so do I.”

Holmes is quick and athletic, but relies on his mind to gain an edge.

“I would say my overall IQ of the game,” Holmes said of his No. 1 asset. “I know what’s going on out there and know how to read somebody. Also, I feel like my hands are really good. If you can get the ball in my general area, I’m going to catch it. I’m going to try to do everything I can to catch the ball.

Illinois is coming off a 2-10 season and is 5-19 in two years under Smith, including 2-16 in the Big Ten. Smith is the former head coach of the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and was the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator from 2001-03.

Holmes has a grade-point average of 3.96. As much as he wants to contribute to Illinois’ football team, he knows a business degree will take him much further. Holmes’ dad owns and operates Chick-fil-A in Fairview Heights.

“What I thought about is it’s not really sport first,” Jordan Holmes said. “I was thinking more academic side. Every school offered me the greatest academic field they could possibly give me. Illinois felt like home. I just felt more comfortable up at that campus.

“McKendree, Truman and all those (other) schools are really good schools and have great campuses, but Illinois is a different feeling for me. I felt comfortable up there and the academics are unbelievable. That’s what I want.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm