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Laser Focus
November 26, 2008
By Wendell Barnhouse
Big 12 Correspondent

Priest Holmes has played for a Super Bowl team, set an NFL single-season touchdown record and has been inducted into the University of Texas' Hall of Honor.

Now he can add another accomplishment.

Holmes was named by Texas as its Big 12 Legend. He will be honored along with the other 11 Legends the weekend of the Dr. Pepper Football Championship game in Kansas City on Dec. 5-6.

Holmes was part of a stellar recruiting class early in John Mackovic's tenure as the Longhorns' coach. The 5-9, 210-pound Holmes made his first significant impact in the 1994 Sun Bowl. On his way to being named the game's MVP, he helped Texas rally for a 35-31 victory over North Carolina - coached by current UT coach Mack Brown - by running for 161 yards and four touchdowns.

But three months after the high of that success, Holmes suffered an ACL knee injury in spring practice in 1995.

"In the blink of an eye, things can change," Holme said. "I was going into my senior year, I was coming off a great game. Luckily, I had not used my redshirt."

Holmes missed the 1995 season as he rehabilitated his knee.

"He never rehabbed as if there was a question about his returning but he never spoke about," Mackovic said. "He wasn't one of those who went around saying, Oh, I'll be back. He just went to the weight room every day, went to class, did what he needed to do. I believe in his mind he knew exactly what he had to do to get back on the field."

And when he returned to the field in 1996 for his senior season, Holmes had gone from a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash to a 4.3.

"Injuries are part of football," Holmes said. "I believed in my rehab program. I went through all the necessary steps to come back. I'm a big believer in hard work. The other side was the mental aspect. One thing that stayed true was my desire to be a professional player and not have my career end in college.

Texas ran a two-back offense under Mackovic. Going into the first Big 12 championship game, the Longhorns planned to use the two-back set extensively to help with pass protection against third-ranked Nebraska's pass rush. With eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams playing fullback doing most of the blocking, Holmes had a big day.

In the last game that Tom Osborne would lose as the Huskers' coach, Holmes gained 120 yards on just nine carries and scored three touchdowns. While the Longhorns' 37-27 victory is remembered mostly for a gutsy fourth-down conversion by Texas, Holmes' running provided the foundation for the upset.

And the running back also provided motivation at halftime. The Longhorns had a 20-17 lead but Holmes wasn't satisfied. He recalled a 1994 loss to Rice that cost UT an outright Southwest Conference championship.

"Priest never said much, he just played," Mackovic said. "When he asked me if he could talk to the team, I said, 'Well, sure.' He got up and said 'We had a chance to win a championship once and we didn't finish the job in the second half. We need to finish the job today.' That was it. What he said made an impact on the team."

Holmes made his NFL dreams come true. He started his career as an undrafted free with the Baltimore Ravens and played on their Super Bowl XXXV winning team. Holmes had most of his NFL success after signing with Kansas City.

He led the NFL in rushing in 2001. In 2002, he gained 1,615 yards rushing with 21 touchodwns despite suffering a late-season hip injury that some thought would end his career. So, in 2003 In 2003, he set the NFL single-season record (since broken) with 27 touchdowns. Holmes and Emmitt Smith are the only running backs in NFL history with back to back seasons with 20 or more rushing touchdowns.

"He ran hard, he was our best blocker, he was our best receiver, he was our best pass protector," Mackovic said of Holmes' Texas career. "Whenever we faced a special pass rusher, we put him in position to 'chip' on him. Well, he wouldn't 'chip' on the guy, he would stone him. He was a prototype of a true NFL running back, an every-down back.

"Priest was an exceptional worker and he was mentally tough. He didn't seek the limelight."

The weekend of this year's Dr Pepper Football Championship, Holmes and his fellow Legends will be basking in the spotlight.

"I was honored to be selected and to be one of the 12 appointed to represent each school," said Holmes, who spends his time in San Antonio running a youth foundation that bears his name. "I'm excited to be attending and be part of that weekend."

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