NC State

Former NC State football star Torry Holt a receiver who won't stop giving

Torry Holt poses in Reynolds Coliseum on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. In the spring, the Holt Brothers Construction company will help remodel Reynolds Coliseum. “For us to have a part in that, at our university … the feeling that we have for that is indescribable,” Holt said.
Torry Holt poses in Reynolds Coliseum on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. In the spring, the Holt Brothers Construction company will help remodel Reynolds Coliseum. “For us to have a part in that, at our university … the feeling that we have for that is indescribable,” Holt said. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The hands.

The story of Torry Holt is in his hands. Of course it is, as one of the best receivers in N.C. State and NFL history, it has to be.

Look at Holt’s left hand. After more than 900 catches and 13,000 yards in 11 NFL seasons, it has its own chapter. Looking from the knuckle side, the middle finger on Holt’s left hand makes a hard left, like the last turn at Talladega.

“That’s my badge of honor,” Holt said.

Holt, 38 and five years out of the NFL, could get the finger surgically repaired but it doesn’t bother him and he prefers to leave it as is.

“It reminds me of the hard work I put in to get here,” he said.

“Here” has multiple meanings for Holt. He’s a semifinalists for the 2015 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He would be N.C. State’s first former player in the shrine in Canton, Ohio.

He’s also in the beginning of a business career with his younger brother, Terrence, also a former football player at N.C. State and in the NFL. Under the umbrella of Holt Brothers Inc., Torry and Terrence run a construction firm, which has scored work on two major upcoming projects in Raleigh.

The Holts also run their own charitable foundation, which helps families dealing with cancer.

So there’s more to Holt than just his hands.

“He’s an incredible human being,” said Dre’ Bly, one of his best friends and former teammates with the St. Louis Rams. “He inspires people, he helps people, no matter what he does, he’ll go the extra mile to be the best at what he’s doing.”

In Mom’s honor

Good people do good things because they want to, not because they have to.

Torry Holt got a cruel education on the effects of cancer when he was growing up in Gibsonville. His mother, Ojetta Holt-Shoffner, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1986. Holt, the oldest of three siblings, was 10. Ojetta lived for 10 years with the disease, dyeing yarn at a textile mill through chemotherapy treatments.

The cancer went in remission for five years but when it came back, she couldn’t fight anymore. She passed away two days after Christmas in 1996.

The loss of their mother motivated Torry and Terrence to start the Holt Brothers Foundation, which helps families with cancer, with an emphasis on helping children cope with the struggle of having a parent with cancer.

“The kid loses out on being a kid,” said Holt, who was 20 when his mother passed away. “If there’s any way we can help them have a ‘normal’ experience, even for a day, we want to help them do that.”

The foundation organizes monthly meetings with local hospitals, through its KidsCan! program. The Holts recently participated in a bowling night with families at an alley in Raleigh. The Holts raise money for their foundation through their annual Playoff Party, which will be Jan. 19 at PNC Arena.

For the second straight year at the fundraiser, there will be a raffle to win Super Bowl tickets. Holt, who has two young daughters, is pretty geeked that there’s also a raffle for the Taylor Swift concert in Raleigh.

You can feel the admiration in Holt’s voice when he talks about his mom and the work the foundation is doing in her honor.

“My mom was for real,” Holt said. “She would work in the mill and then come home and take care of us and she still had the energy to get after us when she had to.”

Standing in an almost empty Reynolds Coliseum about a week before Christmas, and the anniversary of her death, it’s still painful for Holt to talk about his mom. There is a smile when he thinks about if his mother could see him now.

“You know, she would be proud of us,” Holt said. “And she would happy but she’d still be our mom and making sure that her boys were taking care of themselves and we were keeping our priorities in order.”

A cool assistant coach

Holt’s priorities start with his family. He met his wife, Carla, at N.C. State. She played soccer for the Wolfpack in the late 1990s. They have three children: a son, Brayden, 13, and daughters, Brianna, 11, and Brooklyn, 10.

“Big Game” is just dad to them, and to a group of Pop Warner football player in Raleigh, he’s a pretty cool assistant coach.

Holt helps coach his son’s Pop Warner team, which has been a somewhat surreal experience for Capital City Steelers coach Al Leaston.

Leaston went to N.C. State when Holt was a star there in the 1990s, and tries to explain to the younger players how Holt earned his “Big Game” nickname with some of the most incredible performances in ACC history.

“Those Florida State games,” said Leaston, without any reason to finish.

As a senior, Holt led N.C. State to a 24-7 upset of No. 2 Florida State in the second game of the 1998 season. It was one of the biggest wins in school history.

He was the ACC Player of the Year in ’98 and still holds the single-season ACC record for yards (1,604 in ’98). But Holt’s best game, maybe ever, came the year before down in Tallahassee, Fla.

He had 12 catches for 168 yards and an ACC-record five touchdowns. That was when Florida State was Florida State, legendary coach Bobby Bowden beat every ACC team, with a smile, and had a vastly superior fleet of athletes than the ACC had ever seen.

That never fazed Holt, who was a bit undersized at 6-foot and 190 pounds, but had great speed, great hands and a great work ethic.

Leaston will often find him working with the players after practice, just like Holt did, catching extra passes.

“They all love him,” said Leaston, who has coached youth football for 13 years. “He’s serious about football, I mean he’s pretty intense to say the least, but he’s still really good with the kids.

“When we score a touchdown, he’s the first one out there chest-bumping and celebrating with the players.”

The Steelers went 13-2 this season and made the Pop Warner Super Bowl at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee, Fla., this month. The team split its two games in Florida. After the win, a local television crew wanted to interview Holt. He told them to talk to Leaston and the players.

“That’s just the way he is, he didn’t want to take any of the spotlight,” Leaston said. “That’s him, he’s just a really cool guy.”

Picking tobacco

As long as he can remember, Holt has always had a job. His mom worked in the mill and his dad, a former Marine, worked in a rock quarry. Between their jobs and caring for Ojetta, there was little choice but for Torry to help.

When he was 13, he picked tobacco for $5 an hour. He used some of the money to buy cleats for football, his treat would be to use $5 for a meal at the local barbecue joint. The rest went to his parents.

“I’ve never been afraid of hard work,” he said.

In the spring, the Holt Brothers Construction company will help remodel Reynolds Coliseum. Built in 1949, Reynolds will get a $35 million facelift that will turn the Old Barn into a showcase for N.C. State’s Hall of Fame, which Holt was inducted into in 2013, and an upgraded home for the women’s basketball team.

The project will “breathe new life into an iconic building,” as Holt put it.

“For us to have a part in that, at our university … the feeling that we have for that is indescribable,” Holt said.

The Holts will also be involved in the Union Square project in the Warehouse District in downtown Raleigh. He sees it as a way to change the landscape of Raleigh, a concept he would have thought was out of his league when he and his brother were still playing in the NFL in the 2000s.

“If you would have told us we would be involved in these projects, we would have looked at you like, ‘Us? You’re crazy, no way,’ ” Holt said.

Hall of Fame candidate

There’s still one bit of business left to Holt’s football career. He is one of 26 semifinal candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2015. The list will be cut down to 15 in January and the media committee will make the final vote the day before the Super Bowl in February.

It takes 80 percent of the vote to get elected, with between four and eight new members in each class. Holt’s position, receiver, is one that is annually backlogged, with almost everyone not named Jerry Rice having to wait their turn to be enshrined.

In 11 seasons, 10 with the Rams, Holt put up some of the best numbers in league history. He retired before the 2010 season with 920 catches for 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns. Seven times he made the Pro Bowl, twice his team made the Super Bowl, winning after his rookie season in 1999.

How do you get the nickname “Big Game?” Holt had seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ 23-16 win against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

The NFL really became a passing league in the 2000s and no receiver had better numbers than Holt in the 10 seasons from 2000 to ’09.

His 868 catches for 12,594 yards were the most by any receiver in the decade. He had eight straight seasons of 1,100 or more yards with the Rams and six straight of 1,300 or more.

Only three receivers in NFL history have registered six 1,300-yard seasons: Rice, Randy Moss and Holt.

“He’s a Hall of Famer no doubt,” Bly said. “You look at his body of work and the time frame he did it in, it’s unreal.

“He will be putting on that yellow jacket, even if it’s not this year, it will be very soon.”

Four players from that St. Louis Super Bowl winner are on this year’s Hall of Fame list – Holt, left tackle Orlando Pace, quarterback Kurt Warner and receiver Isaac Bruce.

It would ideal, Holt said, if they could all go in together. It probably won’t work out that way, but he is content to let his numbers make his case.

“My work is done,” Holt said. “All I can do now is wait. It could be this year, it could be 10 years from now. I’m going to wait my turn and continue to enjoy life. “

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