On Saturday, the East Tennessee State running back will see enough of that color to last him the rest of his life when the Bucs take on Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
“A lot of people around here are Tennessee fans, so personally for me, I don’t like seeing that,” Holmes said Saturday night after helping ETSU to a season-opening 28-7 victory over Mars Hill. “Going down there to play against them will be fun. It’s not every day that you’re going to be able to play an SEC team, so that will be special.”
Holmes is one of the big reasons the Bucs will bring a 1-0 record into Knoxville. He rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate game.
“I have to give all glory to God for that one,” Holmes said. “Our coaches bought into the running game. The O-line, they were physical. They got a little personality about themselves … aggressive and bought in. They blocked their butts off for me and I ran mine off for them.”
None of Holmes’ 17 carries resulted in a loss of yardage. In fact, all of ETSU’s 30 called running plays gained yards, something that could rarely — if ever — be said last year. Throw in Jacob Salyors’ 70 yards on nine carries and Matt Thompson’s 39 on four and the Bucs’ running backs averaged 7.6 yards per attempt.
Holmes became the first ETSU back to rush for more than 100 yards since Jajuan Stinson did in 2016.
”We ran the ball well,” first-year ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “I thought our line did a good job. The tight ends blocked well, backs ran well. There were a lot of positives to build on. It was good to run the ball like we did.”
Meanwhile, new quarterback Logan Marchi didn’t lose faith in his receivers as they fought opening-night jitters with numerous dropped passes in the first half.
Marchi threw for three touchdowns in his ETSU debut and finished with 273 passing yards. He was 7 for 10 after halftime as the offense wore down the Lions.
“We were doing what we were supposed to do in the first half,” Marchi said. “We were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot in some places. In the second half, we kind of eliminated those mess-ups.
“I think it was really good for guys to see how things click.”
It took a while for the Bucs to click after they spent the first half piling up mistakes. In addition to the dropped passes, a couple of missed field goals and two turnovers kept ETSU from feeling comfortable until after halftime.
“One of the things I’ve been trying to preach to them from Day One is handling adversity,” Sanders said. “Learn from the last play, but then forget the last play. Play the next one. The next one is the most important play in football. I thought tonight was a great example of playing the next play.”
Marchi spread the wealth, connecting with eight receivers. Quan Harrison, an all-Southern Conference return specialist, caught five passes for 112 yards, including a 55-yarder that set up the Bucs’ first score and a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Ari Werts caught two passes for 59 yards, but the transfer from Georgia State played a lot bigger than his statistics. He was all over the field, making a shoe-string tackle on a kickoff return and getting in on the hit when Mars Hill punter Michael Johnson fumbled a snap.
Werts, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, was a tight end at Georgia State. He’s lining up as a receiver in Sanders’ offense and it looks like he’ll be a tough matchup anywhere he plays.
Now it’s time to hit the road for the first time, and it’s not just any road. It will be ETSU’s first football game ever against Tennessee and it will have Bucs fans delirious with anticipation all week.
“I’m glad I got my feet wet today,” Holmes said. “I know what to expect going into Tennessee. It’s going to be loud, a lot of people against us. But at the end of the day, I have to control what I can control — tune those things out and play like I can play and not get distracted.”
The players will try to stay even-keeled this week as long as they can.
“It’s going to be crazy, a bigger crowd,” ETSU defensive end Nasir Player said. “But at the end of the day, they’re just another team on the schedule. We’re trying to beat them like anybody else.”
Sanders played and coached at Tennessee, where he spent 17 years as an assistant. He’ll spend the week leading up to the game downplaying the significance of the historic matchup.
“Everyone knows who we play this week and I’m trying to get the team to approach every game the same,” Sanders said. “I want the same team every week. Once we are mature enough to do that as individuals, then we have a chance to be a good football team.”