Lincoln North Star vs. Lincoln Southwest, 10.21.16

Lincoln Southwest's Justin Holm (2) celebrates his touchdown with Jakob Ahlschwede (19) against Lincoln North Star last season.

He was just having fun that first Friday night. None of the Husker coaches knew Justin Holm, best he knew. So he didn't feel overly burdened by pressure. Just go play football.

Looking back at it, maybe that loose approach was part of what helped him excel. Running crisp routes. Showing reliable hands. Yeah, he's also 6-foot-6. Kind of sticks out.

He stuck out to Mike Riley.

Nebraska's head football coach approached the Lincoln Southwest senior-to-be and his mother near the end of that first Friday Night Lights camp. "He did really well," Riley told his mom. Before they parted ways, the coach added something else, "We'll stay in touch."


"I didn't know what that meant because I've never been recruited or anything," Holm said. "I didn't know if that was just like, 'Well, nice seeing you, we'll talk to you again sometime.' Or actually, 'We'll really see if you can play here.'"

By that next Wednesday morning, two days before a Friday Night Lights camp full of top-tier wide receiver and defensive back recruits, Southwest football coach Andrew Sherman received a message from Kenny Wilhite, Nebraska's director of high school relations.

Holm had an invitation to show up to Memorial Stadium and compete again that Friday.


One of Holm's friends, Anthony Banderas, a fellow teammate and younger brother of recent Husker linebacker Josh Banderas, had a good idea what to make of it.

"He was like, 'Justin, this is legit. You have one chance. If you do well, you never know what can happen,'" Holm said.

He'd grown up going to games since he was 7, watching big moments from the stands, thinking like a lot of Nebraska kids about what it'd be like to be down there making those moments.

So the night before that second Friday camp — he didn't sleep much.

The right words can quickly ease the mind, though. That happened for Holm not long into the camp, when first-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who he'd never met before, approached him.

"He told me, 'This may surprise you, I know you're a wideout, but I can also see you playing defense. I want you to come here. Because the worst-case scenario is if wide receiver doesn't work, there's a home for you,'" Holm recalled.

The nerves dashed away. Holm made some plays.

Most memorable was a touchdown catch near the end of the night during one-on-one drills. It was a 50-50 ball in the corner of the end zone. Holm played it better than the defensive back, turning at the proper moment, hauling in the catch as he fell to the ground.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

He did a jumping body bump celebration with Husker wide receivers coach Keith Williams immediately after.

Nebraska football indeed had a place for him. By that Saturday night, Holm publicly announced he was accepting an offer as a preferred walk-on with the Huskers.

A big moment for a very deserving kid, according to his high school coach.

"I don't say this about just every kid, but he's one of the best character kids that I've ever coached," Sherman said.

Holm arrived at Southwest his sophomore year after previously attending Norris. Given his size, he often received suggestions that he should lock in on another game.

"You're good at basketball, that's what everyone tells you," Holm said. "Especially when you're 190 pounds and 6-6 like me."

The truth was, football wasn't his highest priority a couple of years back. Then he met Mark King, the Southwest head coach at the time. King motivated him like no other coach before.

"That kind of ignited the passion for football that I lost."

Holm credits King, Sherman and Brett Schuster, his track coach and football position coach, as the three most influential coaches who have helped him reach this point.

Sherman credits the player for the way he has worked to fill out his body and improved those areas that might have been perceived as weaknesses.

"We always knew Justin had the ability to catch the ball. But he's worked his tail off to get faster," Sherman said. "I mean, he's dropped tenths of a second off his 40 time, which now gives him a chance to be a legit, high-caliber, upper-echelon type of kid."

At a 7-on-7 camp in Omaha last week, the coach points out that Holm didn't come off the field for his team, working at both receiver and free safety.

As he works over the next 11 months to be ready for his time as a Husker, it's not hard to find success stories who have followed the same path he will take. There's a tall walk-on wide receiver from Lincoln East who is primed for a big role for Nebraska in the season ahead in Bryan Reimers.

Then there is Brandon Reilly, a fellow Silver Hawk who found success at Nebraska and is now with the Buffalo Bills. Reilly has already reached out to Holm about getting together.

Fine examples to keep top of mind for a guy looking for more after two memorable Friday nights.

"You can see what you can do if you put your mind to it," Holm said. "I told Coach Riley in our meeting right before I left, 'That's what I want to do.'"

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


Load comments