It’s Clemson week, as if Pelham native Jake Holland needed any more motivation.
“He’s a family friend,” says the Auburn starting linebacker of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “There’s no question that we have that (Pelham) connection. I was recruited by him and I know him very well. I’m not sure I would say that ‘it fuels a fire,’ but it’s definitely motivation - being able to to go to battle against a friend.”
It’s not often Pelham High School produces an athlete that takes their talents to a BCS conference. Swinney was among the forefathers, walking on at the University of Alabama and earning a scholarship as a wide receiver. Swinney went on to become a graduate assistant and full-time assistant with the Crimson Tide before joining Tommy Bowden’s staff at Clemson. More recently, Pelham’s pride was former Auburn receiver Montez Billings, who is currently on the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Holland becomes the first Pelham Panther to play a pivitol role on a SEC roster since Billings’ time at Auburn.
“It feels great,” said Holland. “I’m blessed to be where I’m at and to have an opportunity to play at a big school like Auburn. All I can do now is work day by day to get better at my trade.”
Auburn and Clemson weren’t the only schools vying for Holland’s services. Schools called from as far away as the west coast. Facing a daunting process, Holland felt it was his best decision to stay closer to home.
“Auburn is close,” Holland said. “I liked the people here and I knew I had an opportunity to do great things here. I appreciate that it’s family oriented and, obviously, it’s worked out pretty well.”
And it’s at Auburn that Holland was a part of a BCS National Championship team in 2010. “A lot of my family was at the game,” he said. “The first person I talked to was my dad. We’re very close. He works a lot in Auburn and we talk football a lot. It was an overwhelming feeling, what we had accomplished.”
Holland’s brother, Wes, is a senior tailback at the University of North Alabama. It’s Wes, Jake says, that gave him the skill, the focus and the determination to ascend to a starting role by his sophomore season.
“I saw what a hard worker he was, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he said. “I worked hard in high school to prepare for this and it was because I was motivated by him.”
Holland still stays in touch with his former Pelham coaching staff, and managed to attend the season opener against Hueytown. He hopes to see more Panthers follow in his footsteps.
“High school athletes need to take the opportunity to study the game,” said Holland. “The more you know it, the more comfortable you feel with it. A lot of guys come to college and don’t know it as well as they should. And you’ve really got to know the playbook front to back. You’ve got to know how the plays work. You’ve got to know the game.”