Duke

Former Duke football player Blair Holliday set to graduate Sunday

From left, former Duke football player Blair Holliday, badly injured in a 2012 jet ski accident, holds a press conference with Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe, in the Duke Media room at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Thursday, May 12, 2016. Holliday, now 23, has come back to walk again, and has resumed his life - but without football.
From left, former Duke football player Blair Holliday, badly injured in a 2012 jet ski accident, holds a press conference with Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe, in the Duke Media room at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Thursday, May 12, 2016. Holliday, now 23, has come back to walk again, and has resumed his life - but without football. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Four years ago, Blair Holliday was in a coma, fighting for his life.

On Sunday, he will walk across the stage at Duke and receive his college diploma.

“In all my years of athletics,” Duke football coach David Cutcliffe said, “I’ve never been around this many heroes and this type of circumstance before.”

Holliday was supposed to be one of Duke’s starting wide receivers entering his sophomore season, but a July 4, 2012, jet ski accident derailed those plans. Holliday and teammate Jamison Crowder collided while on jet skis, and Holliday was knocked unconscious, bleeding from his mouth. Crowder pulled him out of the water, and Chelsea Gibbons, a nursing student who didn’t know Holliday, performed CPR. Holliday was airlifted to the UNC Trauma Center in Chapel Hill. Doctors didn’t know whether he would survive. Duke sent out a statement asking for prayers.

In the four years since the accident, Holliday has rebuilt his life. He relearned how to walk, how to drive and how to handle school. And while he never played football again, he remained a part of the team as an undergraduate assistant and unofficial wide receivers coach. Holliday finished up his undergraduate degree in December, majoring in psychology with a certificate in markets and management studies. On Sunday, he will formally collect it.

“There is one thing that certainly got me through this entire process, and that one thing was just family,” Holliday said Thursday, speaking to reporters for the first time since his accident. “Not specifically my family, but also the family that I had here at Duke. From the academic family, the football family, to Coach Cut, who is like a father figure to me, to my actually family, the fans – it was definitely that family feel that brought me to Duke and definitely the family that got me through this traumatic accident.”

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley

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