Hey YBs. I had the opportunity to do an interview with bucknuts.com, which is the #1 Ohio State Fan Site. I wanted to share the article with you. They asked me about how I feel about returning punts. Now what do you think I said??? Check out my answer below. TTYL
Holmes Looks Back with Playoff Game Looming
For a football program notoriously known as primarily run focused, Ohio State has sent more then a fair share of quality wide receivers to the NFL. In fact since 2003, the Buckeyes have sent four first round draft picks to haul in passes in the NFL.
Leading this new generation of Buckeye pass catching pros is Steelers receiver, Santonio Holmes. With preparation for the playoffs in full swing, I was lucky enough to sit down with Holmes and reflect back on his time at Ohio State as well as his transition, acclimation, and ascension into NFL.
From Columbus to Pittsburgh
Holmes ended his career as a Buckeye in thrilling fashion, with game altering touchdowns in wins against Michigan as well as Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. However despite being projected as mid first round pick, Holmes had to wait until the latter part of the first round when the Steelers moved up to select him.
Despite having "slipped" a bit on draft day, Holmes was overall content with his segue the NFL.
"It was very tough, but I had very high expectations coming in from the coaches who brought me in and they expected me to come in and be a breakout player. I was looking forward to coming in and playing for a team that just won the Super Bowl and was hoping to help get them back to the Super Bowl," recalls Holmes.
Although Holmes finished his OSU career in spectacular fashion, it took him awhile to make his mark in his rookie campaign for the Steelers. Looking back on all the big plays he has made in the NFL, the two that stood out as being favorites were both from his rookie year.
"The punt return against Carolina my rookie year. It was my first punt return touchdown in the NFL. I can also say my first NFL touchdown against the Cleveland Browns, in the state of Ohio where I played my college ball," Holmes reminisces.
During his time as a Steeler, Holmes has on-again off-again been used as a punt returner. While many established NFL players like to relinquish return duties, Holmes considers it an integral part of what he can bring to the table as a playmaker.
"Returning punts is part of my game. It allows me to be creative when I am not getting as many catches for the offense. It allows myself to get momentum in the game. If I don't have an opportunity to produce for the offense I definitely have an opportunity to produce for special teams and that's probably one of the biggest factors of the game that people don't recognize."
New Faces and New Fans
Upon joining the Steelers in 2006, Holmes found himself in good hands with a respected head coach, a big time quarterback, as well as a great mentor in veteran receiver, Hines Ward. Looking back Holmes attributes a lot of his growth at the wide receiver position to Ward's tutelage.
"Working with Hines, has probably been a blessing. I have had good receivers year in and year out. At Ohio State, Mike Jenkins, he carried me under his wing for 2 years and guided me. Hines has now been guiding me for 3 years and molded me into a great receiver that's complete."
Ward's advice to Holmes includes best practices both on and off the field.
"Things like blocking, catching the ball for first downs, catching short passes and turning them into long plays, and understanding the whole game itself. Also life after football, outside of football, and how to treat people and respect people. It's been very helpful"
Further developing Holmes' talents at the pro level was Bill Cowher. Unfortunately though, Cowher decided to step away from coaching and was subsequently replaced by current head coach, Mike Tomlin. Despite having three different head coaches in three years between Tressel, Cowher, and Tomlin, Holmes thinks they share a lot of similar attributes.
"I am pretty sure they think alike. They are all defensive orientated and they let all the opportunities present themselves to their big play guys whether its wide receivers, running backs, quarterbacks, or whomever it maybe. They give those guys the opportunity to make as many big plays as possible for the team and let them run free."
Holmes established himself as a fan favorite in Ohio and his since done the same to the Steeler's faithful. However he has recently taken the initiative of starting a blog on Yardbarker.com, to broaden his fan base beyond Buckeye and Steeler fans.
"I think its starting to become such a big thing because once we are in football, we don't really talk to that many people and we try to keep our circle very minimal and try to stay out of as much trouble as possible," says Holmes.
"I think the more we interact with fans, the more the fans watch us and it brings more excitement to the table. They are sitting at home saying "I just talked to him on Yardbarker and now I am actually watching him play in a game!"?It gives them a sense that they know personally who we are."
Readying for Battle
Coming from Ohio State, Holmes is no stranger to big games. With many experts projecting the Steelers as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl, Holmes believes the team is on the cusp of another great playoff run.
"A lot of the guys are very upbeat and excited knowing that we have a shorter path to the Super Bowl. Having trusted veterans that have been around and played in the Super Bowl and know what its like to be one of those underdog teams who win the big games and make it to the super bowl is huge," explains Holmes.
"Around the locker room we're really feeding off of that. Practices are very up-tempo, and for 3 more weeks I know I have to give everything I have during practice. Extra film, extra meetings, and anything extra after practice. I am pretty sure that's going to carry us to where we need to be."
In the Steelers way this weekend is the San Diego Chargers, a team who is coming off of five straight must win games and has been playing their best football of late. Also known for being a physical team, the Chargers present one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL. Despite this reputation, Holmes believes that the Steelers have the edge when it comes to physicality.
"We're just going to do, what we know how to do at that is play football. If they want to be physical guys, we'll definitely beat them at their game. We have two physical receivers, who are as physical as any receivers in the NFL. If that's what it comes down to, who is going to by more physical, I have to give the edge to our offense and defense."
Embracing his Buckeye Roots
Holmes is not shy about his continued support of the Buckeyes. In particular he was impressed to see guys he worked with make the playoffs in Michael Jenkins, Anthony Gonzalez, and Ted Ginn.
"There is always going to be a bond between us guys. Even when we play each other, we always compliment each other on how we are playing on the season. When we see each other on the field, we are always talking about stuff that happened at Ohio State. What we did when played with each other?. I am sure those guys are rooting for me being the only one left (in the playoffs)."
While Holmes has found success in the NFL, he still misses many of the thrills that went along with being a Buckeye.
"It's got to be those Saturday afternoons. That's the thing about playing at Ohio State. Coming out of that tunnel to 100,000 screaming fans, week in and week out. Those are some of the most memorable moments in my life," recalls Holmes.
"The fans were great to me, the coaches and the players loved me, and they were always there for me."
For a young man from Florida, Holmes has now spent almost a third of his life in the Midwest. When asked if he would ever consider permanently relocating to somewhere in the Midwest, Holmes laughed at the prospect of living in the cold. However he is considering having a place to spend some time in the Midwest to relax once his career is done.
"I am trying to get back to where its warm but I would like to buy a house or a cabin somewhere where I can come up in the winter time and sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery. It would be nice sit back with no obligations like going to practice or having to work."
Although Holmes is very confident in the Steelers going forward, he does have hopes to add another Buckeye to the Steelers for next season. When asked what current Buckeye he would love to see in a Steelers uniform next season, Holmes showed an admiration for a Buckeye on the other side of the ball.
"I would definitely want another defensive back so I would go after Malcolm Jenkins. He can definitely compliment our defense and the way we have been playing. He's a very physical guy. Good size, runs well, and dedicated his whole demeanor for the team so he is one of those guys I definitely would want on my team."
While Buckeye fans would be keen to point out the likelihood of Jenkins falling to the Steelers in the draft is very unlikely, the same could have been said three years ago of Holmes chances to become a Steeler.
Luckily enough one of Ohio State's biggest playmakers in the Tressel era ended up in a great situation and has worked hard to improve as a pro. Time will tell if he is able to capture a championship in Pittsburgh, but thus far its been a great fit and one he has embraced despite the draft day angst that occurred nearly three years ago.