Editor’s note: Every day, from now until Penn State football’s Class of 2017 reports to campus June 24, we’ll highlight a different one of the Nittany Lions’ 17 incoming signees. Today is Day 11 of the 17-day series.
HARRISBURG Des Holmes basked in the moment.
Wearing his beige “Big 33 Champions” hat on Saturday night, the Penn State commit — a three-star offensive tackle from Cardinal O’Hara — dumped a Gatorade cooler of water on the head coach and proceeded to jump around.
Holmes’ Pennsylvania squad defeated Maryland 44-33 in the 60th Annual Big 33 Classic on Saturday at Landis Field, giving the lineman a celebration he never thought was possible.
“If you asked me four or five years ago, I did not think I’d be here at this point,” Holmes said. “The point came where I knew I wanted something more. I wanted to go after it.”
This time two years ago, he didn’t hold a single scholarship offer. But throughout the evening, Holmes proved how far he had come.
As he pushed around Maryland edge rushers and paved the way into the end zone, Holmes made family members smile while showcasing his Penn State potential.
Lee Holmes walked through the green gates at Landis Field a proud father, wearing blue shorts, a white Nike T-shirt and a navy Penn State hat.
He still fondly recalled the beginning of his son’s journey to Penn State, laying down a ladder in his basement for Des to perform footwork drills. He took Des to the gym every day and watched the sophomore squat more than 500 pounds and blossom before his eyes.
“It was his determination that took him to the next level,” Lee said with a wide grin. “He became a performer on the football field.”
More family members joined Lee at the Big 33 Classic, some wearing “HOLMES” jerseys, others repping Penn State.
Hanging out along the field’s black fence, Des’ great-uncle, Charles Holmes, looked on during warmups. A 1962 draftee of the Baltimore Colts, Charles knows a promising prospect when he sees one — and, just like Lee, he’s pleased with Des’ progression.
“Not too long ago he was a little fat guy sitting around, trying to find what his strengths and weaknesses were,” Charles said with a chuckle. “And then all of a sudden, the guy got bigger, stronger, quicker.
“I went and saw him play as a junior, and I could see the beginning of the turnaround.”
Unlike future freshman teammates Lamont Wade and C.J. Thorpe, the beefy blocker didn’t have his mailbox stuffed with offers as a sophomore. Heck, Holmes was still an awkward defensive lineman in 10th grade.
Holmes’ switch happened before his junior season when new Cardinal O’Hara coach B.J. Hogan took a quick look at him and converted him to offensive tackle.
The newly-minted blocker didn’t have a single scholarship offer before his 11th-grade campaign. But that changed rather quickly.
In February 2016, Duquesne offered, and in the three months that followed, Holmes received 14 offers. Pitt, Maryland, Temple, Syracuse and Colorado State wanted him — and, soon enough, so did the Nittany Lions.
Penn State offered Holmes on his birthday, and he committed 10 days later.
Fast forward 11 months, and Holmes’ future as a Nittany Lion brought fans to their feet. As the lineman was introduced at Landis Field and ran through a human tunnel, those in Penn State shirts gave extra applause.
Meanwhile, Charles Holmes, head covered by a black cap, clapped with approval.
“I hope to see some pancakes out there,” Des’ great-uncle said smiling. “I wish I had some syrup.”
Charles Holmes should’ve brought his Log Cabin Original.
Holmes, a Pennsylvania captain, started at left tackle during Saturday’s Big 33 Game, recording three pancakes and guiding his offense from the trenches.
Pennsylvania running back Shawn Thompson punched in an eight-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, following Holmes untouched into the end zone.
In the second quarter, Holmes protected quarterback Reece Udinski’s blindside just long enough to make a play. Udinski dumped a pass over Holmes’ head to running back Joel Davis, who scooted in for an 11-yard score to give Pennsylvania a 14-7 lead.
All told, the Pennsylvania offense put up six touchdowns, and Holmes’ 6-foot-5, 325-pound frame helped make it happen.
“I wanted to go out there and dominate, especially in the first half,” Holmes said. “When I get beat, I get so mad. I came out there with a mean streak. I just wanted dominate people and put them through the dirt.”
Pennsylvania assistant coach Steve Devlin wasn’t surprised at all by Holmes’ performance.
“Awesome week, awesome kid,” the Archbishop Wood coach said. “We practiced once this week when it was 95 degrees out. The coaches and players are in the locker room ready to leave, waiting for the last kid. Des comes walking back in after running hills. That’s the kind of kid he is. He had an eye-opening week.”
One of Holmes’ future teammates saw approach that first-hand, too.
Four-star defensive end and Penn State commit Damion Barber went up against Holmes all week in practice — and he was impressed.
“I had never seen someone or gone up against someone so big live,” Barber said. “I got better. … He comes out 100 percent hard at you.”
Holmes doesn’t know any other way to play the game.
“I’ve got to play with intensity, especially with me going into Penn State. Coach Franklin preaches competition,” Holmes said. “I’ve been taught to always be competitive. I take that to the next level.”
Holmes showed that against Maryland’s best — in a game he didn’t think he’d ever play in.
From high-stepping his father’s ladder in 10th grade to being a week away from joining Penn State, the budding offensive lineman has made incredible strides.
He’s your prototypical late-bloomer, but Holmes doesn’t see that as a negative.
“My father always told me I had to work hard because nothing is given in this world,” Holmes said. “I set my heart out to do something great.”
And if Saturday night was any indication, Holmes has what it takes to make that happen in Happy Valley.
Overview of Des Holmes
Hometown/high school: West Norriton, Pa./Cardinal O’Hara
Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 325 pounds
Position: Offensive lineman
Recruit rankings: 3 stars (247, ESPN, Rivals, Scout)
Other scholarship offers: Colorado State, Maryland, Pitt, Syracuse, Temple
James Franklin says: “You’re talking about a 6-5, 320-pound kid with really light feet. ... His senior year I thought was really good. We talked to him about finishing people, playing with a toughness. I thought he really showed that his senior year.”
The 60th Annual Big 33 Classic
Score: Pennsylvania 44, Maryland 33
Game MVPs: PA — quarterback Reece Udinski (two touchdown passes); MD — defensive tackle J’Quan Harris (strip sack, fumble recovery)
Turning point: With Pennsylvania leading 30-21 in the fourth quarter, Udinski put it out of reach. A signal-caller from North Penn, Udinski rolled left and heaved a 50-yard pass to future Pitt receiver Darian Street. The three-star wideout glided into the end zone with 6:43 remaining in the game, giving Pennsylvania a two-touchdown advantage.
Landis’ leg: Carson Landis — a Penn State walk-on kicker from Emmaus — was useful for the Pennsylvania squad. In the first half alone, Landis kicked a 23-yard field goal, added two extra points, pummeled a 50-yard punt and had a touchback. The right-legged kicker also tacked on two extra points and missed a 49-yard field goal attempt in the second half.
Barber bursting through: Four-star defensive end and Penn State commit Damion Barber was effective off the edge, tallying two tackles for loss.