Next Generation: Big brother pushes J.J. Holloman to excel

J.J. Holloman Georgia Football Next Generation
Jeremiah "J.J." Holloman, leaping to a state title in the triple jump in the picture, has a huge supporting cast back home in Covington. It includes his mother (L), Oneida, his brother, L.J. (R), and nephews and nieces E.J., Aniyah and Kaden.

COVINGTON — You can’t really discuss one without the other. The fortunes of Jeremiah Josiah Holloman are so intertwined with those of his barely-older brother that they’re almost one in the same.

Known to family and friends as “J.J.,” Holloman is 15 months younger than his older brother, Layfeatte, also known as “L.J.” But in many ways they are twins. Physically they’re almost exactly alike. J.J. stands 6-foot-2½ and weighs 195 pounds; L.J. is 6-2 and weighs 203. Both of them played football at Newton High School, and both of them are going to be at the University of Georgia.

Eventually.

Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman gets set to haul in a pass during a Georgia spring football practice on April 6, 2017. (John Paul Van Wert/UGA)

J.J. is already there. A heralded 4-star prospect as a wide receiver and an early enrollee, he is considered one of the crown jewels in Georgia’s nationally-renown Class of 2017. He’ll be wearing a No. 9 jersey and playing in the wideout rotation when the Bulldogs conduct the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.

L.J. is relatively unknown, an under-recruited and late-to-qualify recruit who fell between the cracks when he graduated from Newton 2 years ahead of his little brother. But he plans to resurrect his football career at Georgia, where he’ll join J.J. as a preferred walk-on when preseason camp opens in August.

Together, they’re 2 more pieces of the puzzle that Kirby Smart is trying to put together in Athens to make the Bulldogs a championship contender again. The brothers believe they’re the ultimate 2-for-1 deal.

“I mean, he’s a great athlete,” Jeremiah said of his older brother. “It runs in our family. When he gets the proper coaching, then there is no limit to what he is capable of.”

‘Trial-and-error kid’

The Holloman family believes the difference in the recruiting experiences of J.J. and L.J. can be explained by their lack of understanding of how the recruiting game works. They didn’t know that much about it when L.J. went through school. Already having to share the spotlight with 3 other major prospects at receiver, L.J. didn’t do much to garner extra attention through camps or circulating his highlight video. He just kind of did what his high school coaches wanted and really didn’t pursue the prospect of college aid.

Layfeatte “L.J.” Holloman, here watching the family’s dogs in the backyard of their Covington home, will join his brother J.J. at UGA in August. (Chip Towers/DawgNation)

“L.J. was our trial-and-error kid,” said their mom, Oneida Holloman, with a laugh.

Conversely, when J.J. came through, Oneida and her husband, Layfeatte Holloman Sr., made sure to sign him up for every opportunity that came his way. And a lot of them did. Probably the most fortuitous was an invitation to join Cam Newton’s 7-on-7 team. He played on that squad for 2 summers, the second one more productive than the first.

Not only did that provide J.J. with a platform for exposure, it also provided insight as to the competition he would face at the next level.

“He had to ride the bench,” Oneida Holloman said. “Jeremiah had never rode the bench before, but he was amongst really good players, period. … Then I noticed a huge difference in him his junior year. I asked him, ‘What got into you?’ He said, ‘I had to ride the bench with Cam; I promised myself that I would never ride the bench again.’”

And he didn’t.

“I’m grateful for that experience for him. I think he understood then, in order to be great, you’ve got to put the work in and you’ve got to go 100 percent every time you get on that field. If not, you’ll be a bench rider.’”

From Ohio to Georgia

The story of the “Brothers Holloman” actually begins in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their mother attended college at the University of Cincinnati, and that’s where the boys and their 2 older sisters, Tyrah and Alesea, were born and raised. They came south in 2003 to be closer to family in both South Carolina and Georgia and “for a change,” a theme with which the Holloman clan is quite comfortable.

The Holloman family, including Layfeatte Sr., Tyrah, Alesea, J.J. and L.J., took a leap of faith when they came south from Cincinnati and settled in Covington in 2003. (Family Photo)

They settled in Covington, a half-hour east of Atlanta and right on the busy corridor that is Interstate 20.

Mom and Dad went straight to work. Early on, Holloman Sr. was a manager at a Bank of America branch. Oneida Holloman at first was a flight attendant, then ran her own childcare operation and now works a government job as an accounting professional for the Retirement System of Georgia.

At the behest of his wife, Layfeatte Sr. followed through 8 years ago on his longtime dream to serve as a police officer. He now works on a special forces unit for the DeKalb County Police Department.

Through it all, though, their No. 1 job was to raise their children. That task was made easier by having 2 sets of siblings each close in age. L.J. is 15 months older than J.J. The girls are 25 and 23 and now have children of their own.

Sports were always a cornerstone of the family’s upbringing. The girls played basketball and ran track. The boys, well, the boys did a little bit of everything. More on that later.

But athletics — and athleticism — runs in the family.

“Their dad can pretty much do it all,” Oneida Holloman said. “He played baseball mainly; that was always his thing. But on my side of the family everybody plays football and basketball and does track. So they pretty much get it from both sides.”

There’s a rather notable limb on Dad’s side of the tree. J.J. and L.J.’s second cousin is none other than Leonard Floyd, a former UGA football star and No. 9 pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2016 NFL Draft.

“He’s my husband’s cousin,” Oneida Holloman said of Floyd. “We were at his draft party. That’s when we were all telling Jeremiah, ‘UGA, UGA.’ He had all these offers but we were saying ‘UGA is it.’”

Football not J.J.’s first love

Though athleticism is a genetic gift for both brothers, football wasn’t the first love of J.J. But it was for L.J., who found himself having to devise ways to get J.J. out of the house to play it with him.

Little brother had other ideas about how to bide his time. In fact, if not for some grade-school intervention by big brother, we might be watching Jeremiah Holloman competing in the X Games rather than for the Georgia Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium this fall.

The Brothers Holloman, L.J. (left) and Jeremiah, were always together and always getting into something when they were growing up. (Family Photo)

Initially, Oneida Holloman didn’t want her youngest son to play football because she was afraid of him getting hurt. The irony of that is his first passion in sports was probably even more dangerous. Before he took his talents to the gridiron, J.J. was a skateboard enthusiast. He used to build ramps to jump off in the neighborhood. He wore the Airwalk “skater shoes” and everything.

“For some reason that didn’t bother me,” said Oneida Holloman, laughing at the memory. “He’d been doing that since kindergarten, skating, building ramps and jumping off of them. His best friend in kindergarten, that kid’s older brother skateboarded. (The older brother) was in middle school, I think. So J.J. took up skateboarding, and he’d build his little ramps and we bought him a skateboard and he wanted the skater shoes, so we got him his skater shoes. That was his thing for a long time.”

If he wasn’t outside executing gnarly Ollie 180s off his homemade ramps, J.J. wanted to be inside playing his video games. This ran counter to older brother’s wishes, who preferred to be outside hurling one kind of ball or another to someone or against something.

When Little Brother resisted the constant pleadings to shut off the video console and come outside, Big Brother found a way to get his way, as big brothers tend to do.

“J.J. would literally sit there and play games all day, so I’d break ‘em,” L.J. said with a sinister chuckle. “I’d break the controllers and everything. I wanted him to go outside and throw the football with me. That’s all I ever wanted to do, go play catch.”

Mom said the brothers were typical in that way. They fought and clashed just like most siblings.  L.J. believes that J.J. became the elite athlete that he is because he was trying to keep up with and emulate his older brother.

But while they were both exceptional athletes, they weren’t necessarily competitive with each other. They have always wanted to be on the same team, like they were at Newton and eventually will be at Georgia.

“Everybody thinks we were really competitive but we really weren’t,” L.J. said. “We wanted to beat everybody else.”

J.J. was nearly to middle school before he finally laced up a pair of football cleats. When he finally did, he found them very comfortable and that he could move quite well in them.

It was in the Newton County Recreation and Parks Department that Holloman’s true gift was first discovered. The kid could burn.

“After one of their first practices the coach told me how fast he was,” Oneida Holloman said. “He said they timed him and they didn’t think Jeremiah was running as fast as he could because the way he was running he didn’t look like he was going full speed. So they had him run again. Well, he did and they said, ‘My goodness, this kid is fast.’ We didn’t realize he was as fast as he was until then.”

He played running back that season, and nobody is sure how many times he scored on toss sweeps left and right.

That naturally led to track. And while J.J. was faster than most everybody else in middle school and high school, it was off the track and in the field that he did his best work. He became one of the preeminent jumpers in the state. He first broke in as a high jumper but excelled at the long and triple jumps. He now owns two Class AAAAAA state championships in the triple jump.

He would have been a shoo-in to win a third triple-jump title and contend in the long and high jumps had be stuck around to compete his senior season in high school. As it is, J.J. hopes to rekindle his track career next year at UGA.

Notice slow in coming

As for football, in the crazy, sped-up world that is modern recruiting, Jeremiah Holloman was relatively late in achieving elite status and gaining across-the-board national attention. This time a year ago, he had zero major college scholarship offers. It wasn’t until he lit up the charts with his top 5 “SPARQ” rating at Nike’s prestigious camp known as the The Opening in the summer of 2016 that so many Power 5 schools across the country became interested.

Attending camps and excelling in them helped J.J. (seated center) gain more recruiting notice than his older brother, who wasn’t as active on the camp circuit. (Family Photo)

And that’s when things got very confusing for Jeremiah. At one time he was committed to Michigan, and other times faraway places such as Miami and Notre Dame led in his recruitment. Tennessee and Auburn made long, hard plays for him, among many others.

Toward the end, though, it was hard to overlook what Georgia had to offer. UGA was located just 40 miles away, an important factor for a household that includes his parents, his brother, both sisters, 2 nephews, a niece and 4 dogs. It also fielded a strong program in Holloman’s intended major — sports management — and happened to be in desperate need of wide receivers.

It was a match made in heaven.

“I’d been leaning toward Georgia since I got the offer,” Jeremiah Holloman said on the day he signed his grant-in-aid papers. “I liked the idea of being close to home and my family and the way everybody around here supports Georgia.”

As of the football part, “basically they want big, physical receivers at Georgia. That’s what I am.”

It also didn’t hurt that the Bulldogs were willing to take in J.J.’s older brother. They agreed to accept L.J. — who had gotten serious overtures from Mississippi State and Tennessee among a few others — into the program as a preferred walk-on provided he could meet academic entrance requirements. After a year of taking online classes, L.J. received his official acceptance from UGA this past week.

“They’ve known about me for a while,” L.J. said of the Bulldogs. “They said I’d come on as a preferred walk-on and earn my scholarship that way. There won’t be any handouts. If I want a scholarship I’ll have to earn it.”

Opportunities abound now

Now that he’s at Georgia, Jeremiah is trying to avoid becoming a bench rider again. He has given himself quite a head start by achieving his first goal, which was to graduate early from Newton and enter UGA as an early enrollee.

That, by the way, was no small undertaking.

“I had double up on classes,” J.J. said. “I had to take online classes. I had to do a lot of things to be able to graduate early. It was hard. I don’t know if people realize how hard it is.”

But everyone expects it to have been worthwhile. Thanks to injuries that kept Riley Ridley and Jayson Stanley out of the first half of spring practice, Holloman has gotten a lot of work with Georgia’s No. 1 and 2 offenses. The competition will be intense to become part of the 6-8 man rotation that will appear in games for the Bulldogs this fall.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has nothing but good things to say about what he has seen so far.

Kirby Smart has liked what he has seen from J.J. Holloman in the 4 months he has been on campus. (John Paul Van Wert/UGA)

“The No. 1 thing is he’s very consistent,” Smart said of J.J. after the Bulldogs’ second spring scrimmage this past Saturday. “He’s not like most of these freshmen who come in and are up and down, emotional, really good one day, really bad the next. He just stays level-headed and doesn’t get affected by criticism. He’s had some days where he might be inconsistent catching the ball, but he’s never inconsistent with how hard he practices.”

Smart said Holloman had the highest GPS reading for how much he ran for 3 straight practices recently.

“He’s really physical,” Smart said. “If you talk to our DBs, they say, ‘This guy brings a little thump to him and is not afraid of contact.'”

So far at least, he has found his fellow members of the receiving corps to be quite welcoming.

“One thing I can say is the older guys that are already there have really taken the new enrollees under their wings,” Oneida Holloman said. “They’ve really helped J.J. They watch film with him, they correct them when they’re doing wrong. It’s kind of like a big-brother process that they have, which is really great.”

The “big-brother process” is something to which Jeremiah Holloman has always responded well. The Brothers Holloman will be reunited in Athens late this summer.

The family had a long talk about that before J.J. left for college.

“I told him to enjoy it but to understand that he’s on a business trip, and it starts the first day you walk onto campus,” Oneida Holloman said. “He needed to understand why he was there and to not lose focus on that. I said, ‘You know why you’re there; don’t get side-tracked.’

“I’m thankful for everybody who’s played a role in his life, because it literally took everybody. Jeremiah is a puzzle put together by a lot of people.”

Including a brother, who once again will be by his side.

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