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Holley's family bond preserves love of football

Houston Roughnecks WR Nick Holley (33) has overcome physical and emotional adversity along the path that led him to the XFL.

Houston Roughnecks wide receiver Nick Holley has two mantras on the screensaver of his cell phone that he looks at multiple times a day.

To most people, the sayings would sound inspirational. For Holley, they’re more than that. They’re part of his life story.

“If you give up on your dreams, what’s left?’’ one message says.

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,’’ says the other.

Those messages are part of what keeps driving Holley in a football career that has been anything but smooth sailing. There is such a thing as bad luck. Take that several steps further and you have Holley’s luck.

Physical, personal tragedy

The 25-year-old already has had more bad luck than most athletes face in a lifetime. He’s suffered a broken back and three torn ACLs. Holley's mother, Lori, died when he was 18.

“The broken back was painful physically,’’ said Holley, who played running back, receiver and quarterback at Kent State. “The ACLs were tough because the rehab was grueling. But losing my mom was far more difficult than all of them combined.’’

Through it all, Holley has persevered with the help of a strong support system from his family. He’s extremely close to his father Paul, older sister Randi and twin brother Nate, who plays for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

“My father has always pushed me to be my best,’’ Holley said. “My sister is my angel and my rock and my brother is my best friend.’’

Stopped by setbacks

Holley, 25, went undrafted, largely because he was coming off his second ACL tear. He caught on with the Los Angeles Rams and spent time on the practice squad as a running back.

He was about to join the Alliance of American Football last year, but his third ACL tear was diagnosed in a physical before he could sign with Salt Lake City.

“I don’t even know how or when I tore it the third time,’’ Holley said.

Through all the injuries, the 5-foot-10, 195 -pounder said he never considered giving up the sport.

“I love football too much,’’ Holley said. “I’ve worked too hard to just give up.’’

New opportunity

Finally, Holley’s perseverance is paying off. He found health, happiness and a new position in Houston.

His initial workout there was as a running back, but head coach June Jones saw something in Holley that caught his attention.

Jones asked Holley to play slot receiver. Holley was open to anything that would get him a roster spot.

“I had never played the slot before,’’ Holley said. “But I love it. I think it’s where I belong.’’

That’s been pretty obvious on the field. Holley looked like a natural.

Nick Holley takes a catch 50 yards to the house in Week 5

Alongside quarterback P.J. Walker, widely considered the best fit for Most Valuable Player, and Cam Phillips, the league’s leading receiver, Holley quickly carved out a comfortable niche.

In five games, he collected 21 receptions for 261 yards (sixth in the league) and two touchdowns.

"I’m still adjusting to the slot," he said after Week 5. "There’s always room to get better. I feel like I’m stronger and playing better than I ever have, but there is always room for improvement.’’

Holley is healthy for a change and full of optimism for the future.

“It’s kind of weird, but, in some ways, all the injuries were a blessing for me,’’ Holley said. “I’m a stronger person because of them. Adversity makes you a different animal on the inside.’’

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