The 90 Illini #49: Ezekiel Holmes
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The magic number on this countdown is probably #47. There's 11 starters on offense plus their backups. There's 11 starters on defense plus their backups. And then there's a starting kicker, punter, and 'snapper. So the top 47 players on this list are usually the two deep + KPS. Generally, the backup kicker will make the list further down (in case the starting kicker gets the yips), but the backup punter and longsnapper are usually too far down to make the top-90. And those backups are never in the top 50.
That means we're just outside the magic number. We're still well within the "lettermen" here - if this was 1971, they'd still get a letter for their jacket (do they still do that?) - but we're not quite yet to the 44 players in the two-deep plus KPS. For this one, having Marc Mondesir at 55 and Ezekiel Holmes at 49 says one thing: I'm not sure which one will be the fourth OLB.
49. Ezekiel Holmes
Uniform number: 33
Year in school: Redshirt Sophomore (without the Covid waiver, 2 years to play 2; with the Covid waiver, technically 3 years to play 3)
Height: 6'-5" -- Weight: 240 lbs.
Hometown: Wichita Falls, Texas
High School: Hirschi HS
Best offers: Washington State, Air Force
Tom Cruise rating:
2020 statistics: Played in 4 games, one tackle.
The main thing I remember about Holmes was how late his recruiting happened. He finished his Texas high school season late, and he really wasn't on anyone's radar until his performances at the end of his senior season. So his recruiting began in January of that year once the dead period ended in January of 2018. He got offers from Air Force, Washington State, and Illinois (all, like, within a week). He visited Champaign on the final weekend before signing day and then picked Illinois.
As for his first two seasons, all I remember is the rehab. I want to say he had a hip issue? Don't quote me on that. I know that he missed most of his first two seasons (2018 and 2019) while rehabbing from surgery. So 2020 was really his first year on the field. He ended up playing in four of the eight games at defensive end.
Now he has a position change with this new defense. He's not a defensive end anymore, he's a stand-up outside linebacker. So this spring was all about the defensive ends from last year (Owen Carney, Isaiah Gay, Seth Coleman, Marc Mondesir, Ezekiel Holmes) all learning a new position. They're still on the end of the line, they just have different assignments at times.
I saw Holmes this spring, and I was surprised how much he had filled out. Those two years of rehab must have been spent in the weight room. So I had the thought that there's a chance he moves inside at some point. He was only 205 lbs as a recruit, so it's a long journey for someone who is 205 in high school to then play on the interior of the defensive line. But he's now at 240 lbs and looks like he could get up to 255. So maybe there's a chance, if he doesn't make the rotation at OLB, that he eventually slides inside.