Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
Steelers first-round draft pick Santonio Holmes was arrested twice in a span of 25 days.
When the Steelers picked him with the 25th overall selection in the NFL draft, Santonio Holmes was viewed as something more than just a replacement for Antwaan Randle El. He was a talented, big-play receiver from Ohio State who also was an outstanding punt returner, a player of such skill that the Steelers traded up seven spots in the draft to select him.
By all accounts, according to coaches and scouts, Holmes was a nice, likeable person who had helped his single-parent mother raise her four children in the tough, crime-infested neighborhood of Belle Glade, Fla., just south of West Palm Beach. When he reported to the team's minicamp a week later, Steelers coaches were impressed with his personality as much as with his physical skills.
Almost nobody could foresee what would transpire after that.
In a span of 25 days, Holmes, 22, was arrested in two cities, the most recent -- and more serious -- on a charge of domestic violence and assault against the mother of one of his three children. That does not include an arrest in November 2003, when he was charged with disorderly conduct in connection with an altercation outside an Ohio State campus dormitory in which four women reported being assaulted.
Not only has his off-field behavior raised questions about his character, but it also could result in punishment and possible suspension by the NFL for violation of its personal-conduct policy, even though Holmes has not signed a contract with the Steelers.
But at least one former NFL executive who deals with college football players said he thought Holmes was a problem "ready to explode."
Ken Herock, a former pro personnel director with the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers, has a service called "Pro Prep" in which he counsels and prepares college players on how to conduct themselves in interviews for the NFL draft. As part of the process, Herock teaches players who have legal or behavioral problems what to say in interviews with NFL coaches and general managers.
Herock, a Munhall native, worked with Holmes in January.
Two years ago, he helped Ben Roethlisberger prep for the NFL draft.
"I had an impression of the kid, where he was from, such a tough area, but soon as he told me he had three kids I knew it was going to be a problem," Herock said. "He was dirt poor, all of a sudden he's got a little money, you get a little rambunctious.
"But I would have never thought it would happen now. I thought he might explode in year two or three. Add it up -- no money, poor family background, three kids already -- something's going to happen."
An unmarried father of three
Holmes has two sons -- Santonio III, 4, and Nicori, 25 months -- who live with his mother, Patricia Brown, in Belle Glade. He also has a daughter, Shaniya, 4 months, with another woman, Lashae Boone, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. Holmes has never been married.
Some draft experts thought his status as an unmarried father of three could hurt Holmes' position in the draft. But he ended up being the first wide receiver selected when the Steelers traded from No. 32 to No. 25 to get him.
"Does he take his kids on the field with him?" Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said to the Akron Beacon Journal in March, after observing a Holmes workout at Ohio State. "Very seldom do guys go into that once they're on the football field. Things like that happen. We're looking at his character on the field. We look at character when they break the law, but that's not breaking any laws. That's a part of society."
It was Boone who called police, June 19, and alleged in an affidavit Holmes was "choking [her], throwing her to the ground ... and slamming her into a door," leading to his arrest on charges of domestic violence and assault. Both charges are first-degree misdemeanors.
Holmes pleaded not guilty and was released the following day on a $3,500 recognizance bond. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled July 7 before Judge Michael Brandt in Columbus.
At the time of his arrest, Holmes also was issued a traffic order for failing to pay a fine for an accident Oct. 19, 2005. Holmes rear-ended another vehicle on Interstate 70, west of Columbus, according to Mike Woods, a public information officer for the Columbus Police. Holmes was issued a citation for Assured Clear Distance Ahead, a misdemeanor, and failed to pay the fine by an appointed date.
"I'm surprised what's happening to him now," Herock said. "It was something I thought might occur later. But I thought something will happen, cause him to explode, because I know the background. Not something serious, maybe a fight in a bar or something, maybe a domestic issue, but something was going to happen."
The domestic violence charge came less than a month after Holmes was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct May 27 in the South Beach section of Miami Beach, Fla.
According to a police report, Holmes was observed walking in the middle of the road on Collins Avenue, a trendy South Beach street of outdoor bars and restaurants. When traffic became disrupted, a police officer told Holmes to "get out of the street." According to the report, Holmes "said several offensive words" to the police officer and was arrested.
Holmes was released without bail on a promissory note and promised to return for a later hearing. A hearing is scheduled July 12 before Judge Darrin Gayles in Miami Beach courthouse, five days after his hearing in Columbus.
That, though, wasn't the first time Holmes had been arrested.
Can problem be solved?
Three years ago, Holmes and Ohio State teammate Troy Smith were charged with disorderly conduct after a Nov. 16, 2003, altercation outside a campus dormitory involving four Buckeyes players and four female students -- an incident in which the university said the players were acting as peacemakers. The attorney for the female students said one woman's wrist was broken, and another woman was "choked unconscious" in the altercation.
Holmes was held out of the opening series in the following game against Michigan as punishment and pleaded not guilty to the charge in January 2004. But the charge was dismissed later when a prosecution witness could not identify him.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel declined to be interviewed for the story.
Herock said he is able to recognize potential problems in players because he deals with so many who have had behavioral or legal problems. When he interviews them, Herock requires the player to be totally honest and "confess their sins" so he is able to help prepare their answers when NFL coaches and general managers ask them about their problems.
Herock said Holmes was "very pleasant ... a bright kid, a sharp kid." He said he thinks Holmes won't have any more off-field problems.
"He's smart enough to know. He's going to change. He's smart enough to realize, 'This is going to kill me. I got to stop.' I think he will mature. This will stop. I don't think it will be a habitual thing."
The day after he was released from jail in Columbus, Holmes was at the Steelers' office on the South Side for a scheduled three-day workout with receivers coach Bruce Arians. At the time, Holmes released a statement, apologizing for his recent behavior.
"I understand that being a Pittsburgh Steeler carries along with it the demands for responsible behavior off the field," Holmes said. "I want to apologize for the negative attention that my arrest on Monday has brought the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, especially in light of my previous arrest in May."
Nonetheless, Holmes could receive some form of punishment from the NFL, even a suspension.
Even though he hasn't signed a contract, Holmes is subject to the league's personal-conduct policy because the code applies to "all rookie players once they are selected in the NFL college draft." Among the prohibited conduct cited in the policy is "any crime involving the use of threat or physical violence to a person or persons." If a player is convicted of or admits to a second criminal violation, he can be "suspended without pay or banished for a period of time" determined by commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Players who are arrested or charged with conduct prohibited by the policy are required to have a clinical evaluation and, if appropriate, additional counseling.
"He's a great all-around kid," said Willie Bueno, Holmes' former coach at Glades Central High School. "He did all the things asked of a player. Even when he came out [for football] as a freshman, he was a leader. He was committed he was going to use [football] to get to school."
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1466.