How William Holmquist, born almost deaf, stepped in to help Duke win a bowl game

Holmquist thrust into kicking spotlight for Duke

Duke kicker William Holmquist, who was born almost completely deaf, handled the Blue Devils kicking and punting in a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl at Detroit's Ford Field.
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Duke kicker William Holmquist, who was born almost completely deaf, handled the Blue Devils kicking and punting in a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl at Detroit's Ford Field.

William Holmquist came to Duke to study at the school’s renowned Fuqua School of Business and, hopefully, help the football team.

A hard-working reserve all season, Holmquist found himself pressed into full-time kicking and punting duties for the Quick Lane Bowl.

Duke’s No. 1 kicker and punter, Austin Parker, was dismissed from the team earlier this month. That left Holmquist, who was born almost completely deaf, to handle both jobs in the bowl game.

He didn’t have a perfect game against Northern Illinois, but his contributions were good enough to help Duke beat the Huskies, 36-14, to close the season with a 7-6 record.

A walk-on who spent three seasons as Division III Tufts University’s punter and kicker before coming to Duke last summer, Holmquist averaged 35.4 yards on five punts even with one being partially blocked. He made three of his four extra points and closed the scoring with a 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

“Nobody prepares with more focus than Willie Holmquist,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I hate that he missed that extra point because I know it will just eat at him right there. But listen, to come in under those circumstances, to have to be the punter, to suddenly be the place kicker. Couldn’t write a script. It’s a win. It’s a memory for him.”

Holmquist joined Duke’s team last summer and competed with Parker for the kicking and punting jobs in August practices. Parker won the jobs and handled both for Duke’s 12 regular-season games prior to his dismissal from the team and suspension from school for violating Duke’s academic policy.

Holmquist wears hearing aids that allow him to hear in his everyday life. But he removes them when he’s on the field to help him sharpen his focus. His lone regular-season appearance was a successful extra-point kick in Duke’s 43-20 win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 18.

Duke needed more from him in its bowl game and got it.

“I’m still trying to take in the moment,” Holmquist said. “But it’s pretty surreal for sure.”

Holmquist said his phone was blowing up with messages from his friends – both from his hometown of Dix Hills, N.Y., and Tufts – who watched the game on television. His parents traveled to Detroit to watch him play.

Duke’s postgame locker room already housed a jubilant team that was celebrating the school’s second bowl win in the past three seasons. When everyone learned Holmquist had been asked to come to the postgame news conference, the celebration turned solely to Holmquist as they chanted his uniform number “91.”

“That tells you how they feel about Willie Holmquist,” Cutcliffe said.

Tufts head coach Jay Civetti, a former N.C. State assistant coach, coached Holmquist at the Division III level before encouraging him to take a shot at playing a season of Division I. He watched the game on TV with pride.

“He was excited to help his teammates and to be given the responsibility of both jobs,” Civetti said via direct message on Tuesday night. “Willie at the end of the day is least motivated by his own success but has always been fueled to help other achieve theirs.”

Quick Lane Bowl Football (1)
Duke players hoist their championship trophy after defeating Northern Illinois 36-14 in the Quick Lane Bowl on Tuesday. Jose Juarez AP

Cutcliffe credited graduate assistant coach Kirk Benedict for getting Holmquist and the special teams group ready to play on Tuesday. Duke special teams coach Jim Bridge coached the offensive line in the Quick Lane Bowl after line coach Marcus Johnson left for Mississippi State two weeks ago. Holmquist worked plenty with the kicking unit during the regular season but has seen far less work with the punting unit.

Because Holmquist can’t hear the snap call on the field while punting, it took some extra work for him to be able to stay in sync with the rest of his teammates.

“Me and Daniel Helm went over a little bit of how he did the cadence so I kind of had an idea of when the ball was going to be snapped,” Holmquist said.”But other than that I used my eyes and was just ready for the ball when it came.”

The Quick Lane Bowl caps Holmquist’s college athletic career. He’ll return to Durham and continue work toward his master’s degree in Management Studies at Fuqua School of Business.

But he’ll do so knowing how much he overcame to contribute toward a special accomplishment for Duke football.

The Duke Blue Devils football team gets in the holiday spirit singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" at Union Baptist Church in Durham.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

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