Former North Carolina Tar Heel football star Jesse Holley was working at a security monitoring company and hawking cell phones for T-Mobile when he got the call that he'd be competing on Spike TV's football reality competition "4th and Long."
Holley got on the show and won it Monday. By beating out 11 other hopefuls, Holley, who'd played briefly for Cincinnati in the NFL with another stint in Canada, earned a second football life. He earned the final roster spot to the Dallas Cowboys training camp, which begins July 28 in San Antonio.
Holley, effervescent and chatty as always, spoke to The N&O on Tuesday, and shared stories about proving his mettle for Cowboys' great Michael Irvin, smiling pretty for the cameras. deciding whether or not to cut off the dreds he's been growing for years, and getting a new nickname to replace the one that was perfect for primetime, "Hollywood."
Q: Jesse, been a long time. How you feeling?
A: I'm on cloud nine. It's been almost two months that I've been sitting on this secret.
Q: So the finale was taped in what, April? Couldn't your buddies and family tell you'd won? You had to have given it away.
A: No, no one really knew. They were all guessing. The show would be on and they'd be like, "No man, it's you. It's you." I had a good poker face.
Q: The year you were out of football [a stint in the Canadian Football League], you'd been working out the whole time hoping for another shot. Who were you working with?
A: Two people that were huge for me were Kareem Taylor, my college roommate and one of my best friends, and Leslie Barnes. Kareem kept me in the gym and conditioned and with the mindset that my time will come. And then seven months ago we met Leslie through a mutual friend. She's a triathlete who was taking the year offer. She challenged us to come to her spinning class and she kicked our butts. She's a workout freak. She had me and Kareem with our tongues hanging out.
Q: How'd you hear about "4th and Long"?
A: It was right before Christmas last year. Kevin Best (flak for UNC football) call me. Spike TV had called Kevin asked him to recommend someone with legitimate ability to play on Sunday but also charisma. Kevin said he gave them one name. I owe Kevin a huge thanks.
Q: Jesse, you've never been a wallflower. What was it like for a guy like you to get on TV like that, for a reality show?
A: Before I knew I'd be on, I didn't take it all that serious. Then I got on and I knew it could be a real chance. What better place in the world for me to show the world I can do these things. I'm pretty sure other NFL teams were watching and saying, 'Man, we passed up on this kid?" And I've never shied away from the camera or talking or performing. My nickname wasn't Hollywood before the show for nothing.
Q: It must have helped that you were a receiver like Irvin, kinda similar size and stuff, right? You had an in with him.(NOTE: Holley is 6-3, 215; Irvin played at around 6-2, 210)
A: I did think if I won the show, to have the support of Michael Irvin would go a long way. ... At first, I was in awe. He's a three-time Super Bowl champion. Now he's just Mike to me. I call him on the phone. We work out. We talk and talk and talk. He's not that huge star on TV anymore.
Q: I hear Joe Avezzano (former Dallas special teams coach) questioned your toughness because of your build (lanky at 6-3, 215) and the fact you played hoops at UNC, too.
A: People try to put you in a box but I knew I could be physical. I had to show it. Then there was this one drill and it turned out to be the perfect time to show it. Another player called me out. I knew all eyes were on me. It was a turning point. Before that coaches saw a good athlete and a nice guy. They wanted to know if I could deliver. So in the drill, I flattened the guy. That opened some eyes. That was the cherry on top. They knew I had good hands and size. They knew I could run and jump. But I knocked the guy down and their attitudes began to turn in my favor.
Q: What was the best part?
A: Just being back on the field. And then seeing again all the fans I had at Carolina on the court and on the field. You go away and you're not playing then you're walking down Franklin Street or the mall and people are running up to you again. Kids in No. 9 jerseys. Adults telling me they have family night on Mondays watching "4th and Long." It's really great to be back in the living rooms of all these people.
Q: What did [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones say to you? Anything to let you know you're in good with him?
A: He's excited. He told me, "If you're anything or half what Michael and Avezzano told me you were, you'll have a spot here in Dallas." And anyone who knows Jerry Jones knows he loves the attention and having selling power and something marketable. He had all these Cowboys fans watching 4th and Long and rooting for me. If that doesn't sell jerseys, I don't know what will.
Q: So you were the first to see the new locker rooms at the new stadium in Arlington?
A: The stadium is amazing. Jerry Jones joked to me when they showed it to me that the first time he saw the Astrodome in Houston it was amazing. So when he was at Arkansas he said he wanted to own something that was the biggest of its kind. Then he said, "And now I can put two Astrodomes in the new stadium."
Q: How long are your dreds now? You ever going to cut 'em?
A: They're pretty long but I don't know how long I'll have them. I'm debating letting them go. Let's just say I have two appointments on the same day, one at the salon and the other at the barbershop on the same day, Friday when I get back to North Carolina. One of them will probably get canceled.
Q: I hear you got a new nickname.
A: What? The Michael Irvin Project?
Q: Yeah. Do you call yourself that?
A:Well people havae been saying I'm a little Michael Irvin, or Michael Irving something or "you're his project now." I am the Michael Irvin project. I guess I can drop Hollywood now.