After tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for a second time back in 2015, Auburn cornerback Joshua Holsey decided he should give up.
He had already come back from the injury that robbed him of the bulk of his sophomore season and had a solid junior season, but then to have it happen again four plays into the second game of his senior season? That was a serious blow, and Holsey started thinking about the long-term picture.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but I had told myself I wasn’t going to play football anymore when I tore it the second time,” said Holsey, whom the Redskins drafted in the seventh round. “I wanted to be able to run around with my kids when I was older. I was looking to the future, not the present.”
Holsey wound up giving football one more crack thanks to the encouragement he received from his then-position coach Travaris Robinson.
“Coach told me if you feel like you have anything left in the tank, he felt like I should give it another shot,” Holsey recalled. “He said, ‘Once you walk away from the game, it’s going to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.’ So, he told me if I felt like I had anything left in the tank … That’s what I did and now I’m here. It’s just a blessing for me.”
Reflecting on his road back, Holsey said, “Once I told myself I was going to come back, that I was going to play, I was in rehab three times a day, I didn’t go on no spring break. I didn’t have any partying. It was focusing on rehab and getting my leg back stronger and when the season rolled around, I was ready to go.”
Holsey had a solid medical redshirt senior season, recording 30 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He proved himself as a tenacious competitor and turned heads with a strong game against Clemson’s Mike Williams.
Holsey didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, but did well at his pro day, and the Redskins felt as if he was worth a seventh-round pick and believed he could very well outplay his draft billing.
“What I went through, a lot of people don’t think you can make it out of that situation with two ACLs. I’m just a walking testimony for anybody,” said Holsey, who said one of the big reasons he decided to give football another try was his active status in his community and his desire to inspire those children. “No matter what you go through, if you keep fighting, you can get whatever your dream is. With two ACLs, a lot of people counted me out. Even coming back, they thought I didn’t have a chance, thought I was too slow. But my film kind of showed that wasn’t true. I can play with the best of them and I’m going to continue doing that.”
At last week’s rookie minicamp, Holsey was among a handful of players who stood out in particular to coach Jay Gruden.
On the first day of practice, after seeing Holsey compete in one-on-one drills, the coach started devoting extra attention to the 5-foot-10, 190-pound defensive back.
“He was down here with me on 1-on-1’s,” Holsey said. “And [he] told me yesterday I had a good day of one-on-ones and he was like, ‘I want you to go in here with these dogs [Saturday],’ and I said, ‘Coach, I’m not worried about that.’ So, he was down there with the one-on-ones and then we got to that team period and I seen [the pass], broke on it and he came to me and said, ‘You should’ve picked it.’ He’s a good dude. I enjoy being around him. It’s all fun and games right now.”
Before busting on Holsey for not intercepting the ball, Gruden did rush up to the cornerback and smack him on the helmet, commending him for the good play.
Asked about Holsey’s play during camp, Gruden said, “Watching him move around, it doesn’t look like he was hurt at all. He’s really quick in and out of breaks. He’s a competitor, you can see that. He likes to talk a little bit, as do I, so it’s a good match. We have a lot of fun with him. I think he’s going to be a good candidate for this football team. I know he ran around well in special teams drills, so we’ll see how it goes, but I was impressed with Holsey.”
Holsey spent most of rookie minicamp at the cornerback position, but once he mixes in with the veterans, he likely will work primarily at nickelback, where Washington still is trying to find consistent options.
Holsey said he can’t wait to share the field and locker room with his veteran teammates, such as Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland.
“I’m gonna be in their back pocket,” he said. “Wherever they go, I go. Whatever they eat, I eat. Whenever they sleep, I sleep. I gotta do what they do to see. They’re in the league for a long time, so I’ve got to see what they do to stay in the league that long, so I’m gonna mess with them a lot.”