Valentine Holmes opens up on NFL challenges
RUGBY league star Valentine Holmes has what it takes to break into the National Football League, according to coaches at the star-making IMG Academy in Florida.
The former Cronulla Sharks fullback, who turned his back on a $5 million offer from the Sydney club to chase a contract for the next NFL season, is impressing bosses at the NFL International Player Pathway Program.
"He's made great progress in the first three weeks and I don't see anything that's going to slow that down," program head Will Bryce said.
Veteran NFL coach Larry Kirksey described the 23-year-old Queenslander as "special".
"He's grasping the things that we're teaching him. He's working really well," he said.
Holmes will spend 12 weeks in the program before trying out for several clubs as either a running back or receiver.
"He's a natural ball catcher, he catches the ball extremely well and he has good feet to run the rush, get in and out of his breaks, which is really important because he has to be able to separate from defenders," said Kirksey, who coached NFL for 17 years and spent 22 years in the college system.
"I think he's bought into it and he's looking at this as an opportunity. I understand he left a lot of money on the table back home.
"Well, money is good and we all want money, but at the same time this is the opportunity of a lifetime."
Holmes said he was enjoying Florida but struggling with some technical aspects of the new game.
"I'm learning a lot, brains hurting, but it's great," he said after a 90-minute training session at a press day arranged by IMG to handle media interest in the new recruit.
"It has reached my expectations and then some. People always talk about the playbook, you know they say it's like a really big dictionary and it's a lot of stuff to learn.
"But they're great coaches, they explain it really well to us and they've been coaching for 20 odd years so they know what they're talking about.
"Obviously coming from another sport, you kind of get the idea of things and how professionalism works, so that's kind of helped me as well. But I have a lot to learn."
While some commentators had expressed concerned Holmes might lack the size to make it in the NFL, he said his coaches were happy with his current weight.
"I would like to try to put on a few more kilos if I can, or pounds I guess they say here, but still be fast and strong," he said.
Holmes said he had no regrets about leaving the NRL and that he had sought advice from fellow Aussie Jordan Mailata, who took part in the program last year and is now impressing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He said had not asked any advice from troubled former San Francisco 49ers player Jarryd Hayne.
"I spoke with Jordan a while back now, before I made this decision to come over, because he obviously came through the same pathway and he learnt a lot through it and said it was fun, enjoyable and worth it," Holmes said.
"I am not 100 per cent sure how it all works from now, but obviously I want to get onto a roster where I can.
"It's not going to be easy. I am going to have to fight for it and train for it and know what I am gonna have to do to get onto a team, whatever way, whether it's through the IMG pathway or as a free agent if that opportunity comes."
Holmes has been sharing a villa on site at the sprawling 242ha IMG Academy with former British Premiership Rugby player Christian Wade, another member of the seven-strong current international crop.
"Val's awesome, he's a good mate," Wade said.
Their coaches said the roommates were benefiting from the healthy rivalry developing between the two.
"I think they are definitely competing," said IMG coach and former NFL running back Earnest Byner.
"He and Chris have a little something going to see if they can compete with other and I think that's going to help them."
Byner said Holmes had a similar hardworking, Australian approach to that shown by Mailata when he was at the academy.
"The mindset to me is similar, how they look at the game, how they look at the possibility of developing," he said.
"They take it serious, like it ought to be done, and that's definitely a big factor."