RALEIGH — Long before he ran his own construction company, before his 11 NFL seasons, before his four years at N.C. State, Torry Holt was a kid growing up in Gibsonville.
And Torry Holt lived for sports.
Holt was back at State this afternoon, in the hours leading up to the Wolfpack’s made-for-TV home game against Syracuse, honored at a reception in Reynolds Coliseum for his impending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 10 in New York.
That’s a long way from Eastern Guilford High.
“My mother knew how important sports were to me,” Holt said. “Look, I appreciate school and respect school, but my goal was to become a professional athlete. … It wasn’t to become a doctor or some other profession — and that’s no knock on anybody’s career — but that’s not what I was born to do. I had to work hard at it, but it’s what I always wanted to do.”
And Holt did it well. In his four years at State, Holt set the ACC’s career record for receiving yards, was the league’s player of the year and a consensus first-team All-America pick as a senior in 1998.
His image was on billboards lining I-40. But he had to wait until the Rams picked him sixth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft to profit from it.
So, yes, Holt favors the Fair Pay to Play Act that passed unanimously in the California state assembly last month, a proposed law that would allow college athletes to profit from their name, likeness or image.
“I remember there were times when if you wanted to go out for a good meal or go see a new movie at the theater, you had to figure out if you had the money to do it,” Holt said. “With this likeness situation, it’s a way for kids to make money so they can enjoy not only the fruits of playing football or basketball or whatever sport, but also can enjoy the social aspect of college life. This could afford them the opportunity to do what other students do. …
“This starts the dialogue. And having the conversation around the issue is great. That’s what you’re seeing now. You’re probably going to see more states approve it. Some states absolutely won’t. But it’s a conversation that needs to be had.”
On this day, the conversation centered on Holt.
He’s just the sixth N.C. State player in the College Football Hall of Fame, joining running back Ted Brown, quarterback Roman Gabriel, center/guard Jim Ritcher, defensive tackle Dennis Byrd and running back Jack McDowell.
“You want to leave a legacy,” N.C. State football coach Dave Doeren said, “so if someone who comes after you wears your (jersey) number, they know what it means. Nobody gets to wear (Holt’s) No. 81 here. And that’s for a reason.”
The Hall of Fame estimates 5.4 million men have played college football since the first organized game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Only 0.02 percent are in the hall.
“The Hall of Fame, it’s the standard, man,” Holt said. “It’s consistency. It’s excellence. It’s playing the game the right way. I was always conscious of that. I always wanted to respect the game, have success and change how the (wide receiver) position is played. I was able to be a part of that, collegiately as well as professionally.”
And it started in Gibsonville, population 7,257 according to U.S. Census estimates.
Duffy Westmoreland, Holt’s basketball coach at Eastern Guilford, was among the family and friends at today’s reception.
He retired from teaching in 2010, and he spent 18 years of his career at Eastern. And he never saw an athlete the likes of his undersized, 6-foot-1 power forward.
“Torry was a great kid,” Westmoreland said. “I think he was as good a basketball player as he was a football player. He could do everything. …
“You ride through Gibsonville and you see signs for Kay Yow and Torry Holt. Can you imagine a town this small producing two people like that? And then you throw in Debbie Yow and Susan Yow and Terrence Holt. … That’s a lot of talent from one little town.”