September 15, 2017
Sept. 15, 2017
By Cassi White, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
The words “they never knew” are tattooed on the top of his left wrist. One tattoo, three simple words and an infinite amount of reasons behind it.
They never knew he could grow up to be a running back for the Michigan State Spartans. They never knew he could grow up without his mother or grandmother. They never knew he could graduate from a Big Ten university with a degree in studio art. They never knew a kid from Flint, Michigan, could overcome such adversity.
This saying, these three simple words with such a complex meaning, is a daily motivator for senior running back Gerald Holmes. He looks down at his wrist and is reminded that he can and will prove people wrong.
There are two people who knew, though. One is Holmes, himself. The other is MSU football head coach Mark Dantonio.
Prior to his junior year of high school, Holmes was being recruited and looked at by a lot of different schools around the country.
However, the first game of his junior campaign was cut short in the second quarter, and he was forced to leave the game due to a foot injury.
This led multiple schools to stop calling and stop sending mail. Michigan State was not one of them.
“I came up here on a junior day. The players were practicing and Coach D called me on the field,” Holmes said. “He shook my hand and said, ‘I want to offer you a scholarship.’ That kind of stuck with me right then and there. I was thinking, ‘I’m a kid from Flint, I’m hurt, but you’re still offering me?’”
On Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012, Holmes visited Michigan State for the Michigan vs. Michigan State basketball game. The game ended with a victory for MSU, and a verbal commitment from Gerald Holmes.
He remembers the excitement, the thrill, the family-like atmosphere and most vividly, the chills that ran up and down his spine as they celebrated the win for the basketball team in the locker room.
Holmes looked around the room. He was next to his father and his friend from home; the people he felt closest to in his life. Then, he looked further around the room. He was surrounded by Spartans, people with whom he realized he wanted to spend four or five years of his life.
The chills were running through his body. His adrenaline was pumping. The energy in the room was high and positive.
“I shook his (Coach Dantonio) hand and realized that this is where I belong,” Holmes said. “A team like Michigan State, they can choose anybody they like in the country. For them to choose me with my situation, it meant a lot to me.”
That was the moment that Gerald Holmes became the first commit in Michigan State’s 2013 recruiting class.
They never knew.
At four years old, Holmes’ grandmother passed away. At five years old, his mother passed away. For the majority of his childhood and his adolescent years, he grew up without a female figure in his life.
Growing up without a mother could be used as an excuse for misbehaving. Not for Gerald Holmes. He does everything in his power to make his mother proud.
“It definitely hurt,” Holmes said. “Especially seeing friends with their moms, and people with big families. I have a family situation that’s not like most others. But, not having my mom in my life made me work harder. I use her as motivation everyday to do what I do.”
They never knew.
During the summer of 2013, Holmes packed his bags and moved from Flint to East Lansing to start his college career. He had high hopes and expectations, like most incoming freshmen, of walking into the Duffy Daugherty Football Building and being “the guy.”
Instead, like most incoming freshman, he was redshirted.
Usually, this is where discouragement and frustration take place. A lot of athletes are used to being “the guy” on their high school team and then they walk into a facility where everyone was “the guy.” That’s where the competition begins.
Discouragement and frustration were not an option for Holmes. This is where he began his grind. He worked hard constantly in honor of his mother, and it showed at practice. He was named Scout Team Offensive Player of the Week twice.
During the 2014 season, his grind continued. He saw action in three games, collecting yards and contributing to his team.
In 2015 and 2016, Holmes took the field often, playing in 25 games and collecting eight starts. His numbers began to add up as he rushed for a total of 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns on 216 carries those two seasons.
“I might be a late bloomer, in a way,” Holmes said. “I just keep telling myself, ‘Just keep grinding like you have been.’”
As the 2017 season begins, he is expected to earn his fair share of carries each Saturday in the fall.
They never knew.
Holmes will graduate with a degree in studio art and a focus in graphic design. It’s a degree that’s both uncommon for not only the football team, but the entire student body as well.
At the age of six, Holmes picked up a pencil and began to draw. That’s where his passion for art began. But, when football became a priority as he got older, he put down the pencil and picked up the pads.
Soon though, he realized that art wasn’t just about drawing and spending countless hours perfecting his craft putting pencil to paper. He realized that he could pick up a camera and start shooting.
“I’m interested in camera, photography, videography, if it’s making logos to just being creative in general. I like being creative,” Holmes smiled.
His goal is to have a brand of his own one day. Whether it’s a clothing brand or something else, he’s unsure. The one thing he does know is that he’s creative and talented, and he will make it happen.
“It was cool to come here and get educated on what graphic design really is,” he explained.
They never knew.
Standing at 6-1 and 231 pounds, this Spartan is ready to prove to the world what he and his teammates can do.
“We’re young, but I feel like young can help. Guys can grow, and I feel like they’re hungry,” Holmes said, passionately.
With just one season left to play, he’s ready to leave it all on the field with his brothers by his side.
There’s a saying that is posted in numerous places around the Duffy Daugherty Football Building: Molon Labe. It’s Greek, and means “come and take them,” essentially meaning, come and take the game from Michigan State, come and beat them.
Holmes is prepared to take the field in every game, knowing that every opponent will yearn to take the game from him and his teammates. With his mentality, he won’t let that happen.
“Every game will be a championship game for me,” Holmes said. “I’m definitely trying to instill that in my teammates. Every game I play I’ll play like it’s my last game. I feel like with that mindset we can make plays and ball.”
With his work ethic and grind, Holmes has been proving people wrong his whole life. That won’t end this season.
He will let them know.