Holley to lead Rice defense
Make no mistake, Terry Holley likes challenges.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Holley embraces the role of leader on the Rice defensive unit that surrendered 31 points a game last year.
Holley knows that with a wealth of experience on the offensive side of the ball, the Owls are in good shape there. He also knows that the defense needs to step up its play for his team to contend for a conference title and/or bowl bid.
“We have a lot of guys that can flat-out play and love the game,” Holley said. “What we need to do is win the close games, which means the defense has to get the key stops. We have some good seniors, and we have to make an impact on the younger players.
“We have guys fighting at every position, and that’s going to make everybody better. We’re faster than we’ve been in the past.”
And, a lot of what Rice does defensively revolves around Holley. He was the team’s leading tackler with 92 a year ago, including 12 in a 31-28 loss to Tulsa.
Holley’s job isn’t the easiest. He has to have the quickness to play in coverage, and the strength and toughness to play up close to the line of scrimmage and defend the run.
The Rice senior has proven adept at both, and he loves to bring the lumber to opposing running backs and receivers. And, he has a great memory when it comes to his big hits. His best was in a 52-42 win over Nevada.
“I got one of Nevada’s tight ends last year coming underneath on a crossing route,” Holley said. “I put him out of the game for a while. I was glad he wasn’t severely hurt. It was a big momentum changer in the game.”
This is only Holley’s fourth year on defense ever, and he’s learned more every year. He played quarterback in high school, passing for nearly 4,800 yards. He played the “bandit” spot his first year and then moved to rover the following season.
“It was a little tough from the coaching standpoint,” Holley said. “I had to learn a lot. It wasn’t like you could just go out and play. My position coach (Roger Hinshaw) is such a perfectionist, and I had a hard time dealing with that. It’s a tough thing to have it down to a science.
“I didn’t really have a chance. When I moved to defensive back, it gave me a great opportunity to do something else.”
Holley isn’t the only former quarterback playing a different spot. Running back Thomas Lott, linebacker Adam Herrin, running back Joe Moore and free safety Aubrey White were all quarterbacks in high school when they were recruited by coach Ken Hatfield.
“When I was at Arkansas, I remember I had eight high school quarterbacks that played other spots,” Hatfield said. “Usually I have three or four quarterbacks (that do other things).
“I think he knew it (he wasn’t going to play QB). He was going to be on that field somewhere. He’s an outstanding athlete.”
Since Holley has played quarterback, he has a healthy respect for opposing quarterbacks. Respect, not fear. You won’t see him fretting about playing the top quarterbacks in the WAC like Hawai’i’s Timmy Chang.
“Timmy is a good player,” Holley said. “I’m really looking forward to playing against him this year.”
Another challenge, and Holley will be ready.