UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Even as he backed away, Penn State kept reaching. The Nittany Lions coaching staff — along with the staff of nearly every team in the country — knew Thomas Holley was special, someone to shoot for, and Holley admits he couldn’t resist Happy Valley, either.
Over the summer, he had largely removed Penn State from his top college choices. But Holley, a defensive end from Brooklyn, kept coming back, too, visiting a cousin who attends school here.
“I had an opportunity to see Penn State outside of the football, the students and whatnot,” Holley said in a phone conversation.
In the end, the campus and the football team were a strong enough pull. Holley committed to Penn State Tuesday morning, choosing the Nittany Lions over Florida, giving them the jewel of their 2014 recruiting class thus far. Holley, 6 feet 4, 299 pounds, is considered a four-star recruit by Rivals and the third-best defensive tackle in the country.
Part of what swayed him was a visit this fall for Penn State’s four-overtime victory against Michigan. That game, the trips to see his cousin and defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Johnson started recruiting him after Holley’s junior season last year. It also was Holley’s first season as a football player. He was a power forward in basketball. He hadn’t played football. When he transferred that fall from Christ the King High School to Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, coach Shawn O’Connor recommended he try football. A day later, he was on the field.
Holley helped lead Lincoln to the New York City public schools league title this fall. He accumulated 65 tackles, including 24 for loss, according to the high school sports website MaxPreps.
Of Holley’s strengths, O’Connor said, “The way he gets off the ball, his strength, his athleticism for his size. He can dunk a basketball standing still.”
Holley could prove to be an apt replacement for senior DaQuan Jones. He would join returning defensive linemen Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan, Austin Johnson and Parker Cothren. Two other defensive tackles, Tarow Barney and Antoine White, have committed to Penn State as part of the class of 2014.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.