By Gabriel Stovall | @GabrielStovall1 (Twitter)
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Jalen Holston’s commitment to Virginia Tech football last week was bigger than him being another of Georgia’s most highly touted tailbacks landing at a Power Five school.
It was bigger than Holston continuing the well-established pipeline to big time Division I football built by Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley.
It was even bigger than his name being flashed nationwide across a crawl at the bottom of every television screen that was tuned in to ESPN’s Saturday morning College Football Gameday show — although he’ll admit that was pretty cool.
“I’ll be the first male in my family to go to college,” Holston said. “All the stuff in my family that we’ve gone through, and I just felt like I had to find my way out. I had to get in a better position for my mom and my family.”
And that, for Holston, is the reason why when he signs his letter of intent to Virginia Tech during February’s National Signing Day, it will be the sweetest of sweet feelings for him and his family. In fact, Holston said it was the reaction of his mom to Virginia Tech that helped him know that Blacksburg, VA was the place for him.
“When we went up for my official visit, my mom fell in love with it,” he said. “And when she loved it, and the more I interacted with the coaching staff there, I just felt more and more comfortable with it.”
Call it the ultimate payback to his mother and the sacrifices he said she’s made for him and their family.
“When I was little, it’s always been me and my sister on my mom’s side,” Holston said. “I’ve got seven other siblings on my dad’s side, but I’ve always been close to my mom. I remember when I was younger and I’d see her coming home at seven in the evening and then going straight back to work on a second job so that my sister could go to college.
“I didn’t want to have her have to do that for me.”
No wonder why, when Holston got his first scholarship offers two years ago — from UNC-Charlotte and Florida in the same day — his mom got emotional.
“She’s a laid back person normally,” Holston said. “But when I got that first offer, she just broke down and cried.”
Holston’s ample ability at tailback is what made his mother’s joyful tears possible. The 6-foot, 205 pound senior is a consensus 4-star running back prospect and considered one of the top running backs in the state. He rushed for 1,387 yards on 201 carries, averaging almost seven yards a pop with 15 rushing touchdowns to boot.
Holston, who held 30 NCAA Division I offers, chose Virginia Tech over such schools as Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia Southern, Missouri and Louisville. And he’ll tell you it was because of what the coaches at Virginia Tech didn’t say to him.
“A lot of coaches from other schools, I felt like they were trying to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear,” he said. “But at Virginia Tech, they sat me down with my film and showed me their film, and they told me the plan they had to use me. But they told me that I would have to earn my opportunity to play. That nothing would be handed to me.”
Holston said the straight talk reminded him of Whitley, his high school coach for the last four years. He referred to Whitley as “more than a coach. He’s like a mentor.”
“At first as a freshman, I was one of those kids who just showed up to practice whenever I wanted to,” Holston said. “I didn’t really take it seriously. I thought I’d just get handed the starting job as a sophomore.”
But Artemus Mitchell transferred in from Jonesboro that year and starred for the Tigers, rushing for well over 1,000 yards and leaving Holston to the role of student on the sideline. It was then when he said his focus began to turn.
“I realized that I wasn’t going to have anything just given to me,” he said. “I learned from guys like Artemus and Malik (Bryant) before him. That’s when I decided to step up my dedication and commitment.”
That wasn’t limited to his work on the football field, either. Holston sports a 3.4 grade point average, and said it’s always been his dream to use football as a way to help him get a college education.
Now that it’s becoming reality for him, Holston said he’s starting to get nostalgic about his time at Stockbridge, even as he’s thankful for what his time as a Tiger has taught him.
“Man, I’m going to miss playing with these guys,” he said. “Friday nights is when we really were able to come and turn up together. But just my time here has been helpful to me, and it’s definitely gotten me ready to handle the next level. Virginia Tech feels like a home away from home because it feels just like what I’ve had here with Stockbridge and coach Whit.”