Holcomb Succeeding at Next Level; Still Bleeds BlueJanuary 7, 2002 · Keith Ryan Cartwright
GREEN BAY - A throng of sportswriters are so tightly jammed around Kelly Holcomb's locker that he can't even put his toothbrush back in his Cleveland Browns travel bag.
The former Blue Raider quarterback shrugs off the fact that they're not there for him, but instead to find out how starter Tim Couch - whose locker is right next to his - feels after a 30-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
"Sometimes it's kind of like, wow I'm here playing the Green Bay Packers and it's cold and snowing," says Holcomb, in the small and chilly visitors locker room at Lambeau Field following the game. "You hear about the Ice Bowl and you see it on television, but it's kind of neat having come from Murfreesboro and getting to play in front of packed houses every week."
Seven years after last donning a Blue Raider uniform, life in the NFL has become second nature for Holcomb. It's not, however, something he takes for granted either. Nevertheless, during his season with the Browns and five with the Indianapolis Colts he's experienced games in nearly every stadium in the league. From pre-season to the regular season to the AFC Championship game Holcomb has been involved in some pressure-packed games, including 1997 when he got an opportunity to start one game for the Colts. "I don't think about that," says Holcomb. "I do think about where I'm at because I've come a long ways, but I have a long way to go.
"But, I actually had some of that today. I thought to myself, where would you want to play other than Green Bay, Wisconsin when it's snowing. That's what playing football is all about. This is one of the places where it all started."
For Holcomb, 28, who led Lincoln County to the Tennessee state championship before moving on to Middle Tennessee, his career and future possibilities all began to become realities during his days in Murfreesboro.
In his four years - 1991-94 - Holcomb finished his Blue Raider career in the top 10 of nearly every statistic imaginable for a quarterback, including the fact that he held the career total offense yards with 6,998 until Wes Counts passed him this past season.
"I love MTSU and if I had it to do all over again I'd do it just the same," says Holcomb, who will finish his sixth year in the NFL on Sunday. "I have no regrets about it. I love Murfreesboro, I mean, I met my wife there and actually I'm moving back there when I'm finished. I'm a firm believer in things happening for a reason and I believe that's where I was supposed to go."
The first of two back-to-back Blue Raider quarterbacks (Jonathan Quinn being the other) to make it to the NFL, Holcomb admits to having taken a bit of flack through the years from teammates about his small school alma mater.
After an 8-3 season this year, however, things have been a little different in the Cleveland locker room.
"You can't get much better than that," says Holcomb, proudly. "A couple years after I left, the program kind of dropped off. I don't know what happened and now the last couple years they've started to do a pretty good job "I've started to talk some trash with the guys. Everybody knows who everybody is playing every week, its kind of neat."
And, although the 6-foot-2, 212-pound signal-caller spends a great deal of time preparing for Sundays he still manages to keep tabs on the program through various means - family (his parents and in-laws), friends (former Middle Tennessee teammate Michael Jordan) and various newspapers.
His interest was especially piqued the night the Blue Raiders traveled to Nashville and beat up on SEC foe Vanderbilt, 37-28.
"I think I called her parents and my parents about 20 times," Holcomb says. "I keep up with what's going on." In fact, Holcomb was in Murfreesboro during the last off-season shortly before he signed as a free agent with the Browns.
Through hard work and "perseverance" Holcomb, who started the year third on the depth chart behind Tim Couch and Ty Detmer, has moved up a notch. In his only appearance of the season thus far, Holcomb was 7 of 12 passing for 114 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 31-15 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
"I think it's kind of the same atmosphere as when Jim Mora came in with the Colts," Holcomb explains. "We were kind of young and we hadn't won much the year before and we started on a downhill slide. We have a lot of similarities with this team - we're young and we're going to make mistakes.
"You know, you're going to lose some games and sometimes that's hard for young guys when they come into the league because they're not used to losing. You have to learn to deal with adversity and go on about your business."
Since graduating from college Holcomb first played for the Barcelona Dragons of the World League, where he finished second in the league in yard passing (2,382), touchdowns (14), attempts (319), completions (191) and completion percentage (59.9).
His 76.9 quarterback rating for the Dragons led to a stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995 as a member of the practice squad before signing with the Colts late in the 1996 season.
In five seasons with the Colts as a back up Holcomb saw action five times, all during the 1997 season, the year prior to Peyton Manning's arrival. In his only start of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals he led the Colts on a 70-yard scoring drive connecting with wide receiver Marvin Harris on a 6-yard pass for his first career touchdown.
"When I was first in the NFL you think you know the game, but you don't really know the game," Holcomb admits. "You're a rookie, a young guy, so you don't really know what's going on.
"It takes maturity and experience.
"You know, I've been in this offense and it's become like second nature to me," Holcomb continues. "When I first came to the NFL I knew the plays and all, but it goes really fast and you don't understand it. It all takes time."
Although years of wearing blue have long since faded, Holcomb is one of the few guys who will be able to share with future grandchildren the time he played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. All that aside, Holcomb still hasn't completely forgotten his old college teammates.
In fact, he still regularly keeps in touch with guys like Michael Jordan and Kippy Bayless along with Burt Talley and Garth Petrilli.
"You can't get a better place than Murfreesboro to go to college. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I'll probably spend the rest of my life in Murfreesboro.
"This is my sixth year and who would have thought that a small kid from Fayetteville, Tennessee would have made it to the NFL."
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