Commentary

Speedy Holliday provides LSU offense with another weapon

Updated: October 4, 2007, 1:50 PM ET
By Ron Higgins | Special to ESPN.com

"It's not your size; it's the size of your heart."

It might be one of the oldest clichés in sports, and most of the time when you hear or read it, you put your attention span on automatic pilot and fly right by it.

Trindon Holliday
AP Photo/Alex BrandonCatch him if you can: Trindon Holliday averages 12.6 yards per touch for the Tigers.

But when a guy who's 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds, is a major offensive contributor on college football's No. 1 team and is one of the fastest track sprinters in the world says it, you don't dismiss it.

You realize when LSU sophomore running back/return specialist Trindon Holliday says, "It's not your size, but the size of your heart," it is his mantra. It is what drives him to prove every one of those college recruiters who thought he was too small wrong.

Like the recruiter from Duke who sent him a rejection letter wishing him the best, basically telling him he didn't have the physical attributes to play college football.

Or Rickey Bustle, the coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, who pulled a scholarship offer off the table when he realized Holliday was a tiny dancer.

Or even LSU coach Les Miles, who had second thoughts about honoring a scholarship offer made by previous coach Nick Saban, until holdover offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher convinced Miles that Holliday was the truth.

Hey, all those recruiters shouldn't feel bad. They need to take a number behind Holliday's mother, his high school coach and every defense that has ever faced him.

They all initially doubted him. They all thought he was too small, not just to get the job done effectively, but to even play. "My momma wouldn't let me go out for football until the seventh grade," Holliday said. "When I was smaller, she wouldn't let me play. She was afraid I'd get hurt."

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David Masterson, the head coach at Northeast High in the Baton Rouge, La. suburb of Zachary, felt the same way the first time he saw Holliday in the 10th grade. "He transferred to our school when his mother moved back in our district," Masterson said. "Before he got there, I heard from one of his cousins how fast he was. Then, I meet him. He was about 5-4 and 140. All I could do was smile. "I didn't use him as I should have when he was a sophomore. I thought he was too little, so I put him at slot back, running some bubble screens and speed sweeps. I thought he'd get hurt at running back."

When Holliday first received college questionnaires, he brought them to Masterson, who would actually add to Holliday's hard-to-swallow 40 time.

"I knew if I put his real 40 time that recruiters would throw the questionnaire in the garbage can," Masterson said. "If I put what we had actually timed him in -- the mid 4.2's -- people would think we were lying. Nobody would believe it."

Now everyone marvels that Holliday amazingly is as fast in full pads as he is in track unitard. He is called "the fastest man in college football" for good reasons.

In Holliday's two-year college career, he has touched the ball 48 times on kickoff returns and rush attempts and is averaging 12.6 yards per touch, with three touchdowns.

That doesn't seem like much, but here's the scary thing: LSU coaches, especially new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, are just beginning to realize what they have with their purple-and-gold pocket rocket. "He's the fastest player I've ever been around," said Crowton, who has been a head coach at Brigham Young and Louisiana Tech, and was the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears and Oregon. "I had some guys who are fast at the end of 100 meters. Trinton is fast all the way through."

But what Crowton has discovered, as Masterson did in high school, is that Holliday is a tough little son-of-a-gun who doesn't mind taking a handoff and sticking his head between the tackles.

Les Miles
AP Photo/Alex BrandonIt didn't take long for Les Miles to become a Trindon Holliday believer.

Most of last season, LSU used Holliday on end arounds and speed sweeps. And of course there were his kickoff returns, like his 92-yard TD against Arkansas that counterpunched a Hogs' rally.

But in LSU's 28-16 victory over South Carolina two weeks ago, Holliday ran for a career-high 73 yards on six carries, scoring on a game-tying 33-yard run in the first quarter that came between the tackles. "Trindon is just an exciting guy with the ball in his hands," said Miles, who has become a Holliday believer. "I think he's starting to get in the flow of things we're asking him to do, and we're starting to execute those things better."

That's why Crowton said Holliday is now entrenched in LSU's running back rotation. "Trindon has a toughness to where we can use him for five to 10 carries a game, as part of our 1-2-3 punch of running backs with different sizes and speeds," Crowton said. "Teams know he's fast and they have to protect the outside, which is why we'll run inside more with him."

This should prove to be hell on opponents. Already, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt can envision the problems his defense might have against LSU on Nov. 23 if the Tigers run Holliday behind a mammoth offensive line featuring 6-7, 351-pound Herman Johnson.

Holliday could hide in one of Johnson's armpits. "He can get behind those big guys, you can lose him and then he hits a crease on you whether it be a zone play, a sweep or a reverse," Nutt said of Holliday. "By the time you find him, he's past you. He's lightning fast. What a weapon."

Holliday is beginning to relish his title as the fastest player in college football. "I see defenses worry about me when I come in the game," Holliday said. "They point at me and call out, 'No. 8 is in.' It's fun coming in knowing that the defense knows pretty much I'm going to get the ball."

Holliday proved a long time ago he could handle the challenge. After one year playing receiver at Northeast and excelling at track, Masterson decided to try Holliday at running back as a junior. "I told him, 'If you don't have a breakout year, I'm not going to let you play football your senior year so you can concentrate on track'," Masterson said. "I knew he could go to any college he wanted in track.'

"That spring in football, he was not allowed to run any play outside the tackles the entire spring. We never ran a toss or a stretch. We ran him between the tackles. He had to learn how to get behind his linemen, how to bend and how to lower his shoulders."

Consider the lesson learned. Holliday's running back stats in his junior year: 1,178 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns. "We let him play football his senior year," Masterson said.

Holliday's senior year: 2,210 yards (10.8 per carry) and 33 touchdowns.

Staggering numbers, but not good enough to attract major college recruiters. He had just three offers -- LSU, Southern Mississippi and Southern University. The only reason he got one from Saban and LSU was because he dazzled the Tigers' staff the previous summer at LSU's high school camp.

And Holliday wasn't even supposed to be at the camp. Masterson said that LSU was interested in another Northeast player, but that player didn't want to go to the camp alone. So Masterson took Holliday along also.

After a two-hour workout, Holliday ran the 40 in 4.28 seconds for the coaches, wearing high top basketball shoes. The time was so outragerous that the LSU coaches began arguing if they had started their stopwatches on time. "They asked me if Trindon could run it again," Masterson said. "He didn't even get in a track stance. He ran the second 40 in 4.27. He's one of those little freaks of nature."

What clinched an offer for Holliday from LSU was a simple 5-yard run against St. Helena in a quarterfinal playoff game. "Trindon took a 6-1, 230-pound linebacker and drove him backwards," Masterson said. "Coach Fisher saw that on film and realized Trindon's toughness."

Nobody really knows Holliday's true speed until he's pressed. His LSU teammates know enough, though, not even to bother challenging him in a race.

LSU receiver Early Doucet, who has some wheels himself, said of Holliday, "He's amazing. Get the ball in his hands and he can change a game at any point in time." "They know I'm fast," said Holliday, who has two younger brothers, one (Trey Richardson, a senior at Northeast) which has run a 10.8 100 meters and the other (Dennis, a sophomore at Northeast) who has clocked a 10.6 in the 100 meters.

Dennis Shaver, LSU's track coach, can only stare at his stopwatch and smile when Holliday scorches to another win in track season. "Even at maximum speed, he seems to find another gear that you don't know exists until he's put into a situation that he needs to shift," Shaver said. "I can see it when he plays football. He'll be going along, he sees a hole and then he hits another gear."

Because LSU is host to the state high school indoor and outdoor championships, Shaver was able to track Holliday throughout his high school career.

He knew what an explosive package was about to fall in his lap. But he still is amazed every time he watches the fuse light on the mini powder keg as Holliday blows bigger and longer-gaited runners away. "Normally when you see somebody running world-class times, that's not the physique you associate running those times," Shaver said. "There have been only a few athletes that small running anywhere near those kind of times. "Trindon is very powerful, he creates a lot of force into the track. He's an outstanding accelerator. But his biggest asset is he has tremendous stride frequency."

Which basically means the little man can pick em' up and put 'em down so fast that even in slow motion his legs are a blur. "It was a problem for us last year when we ran Trindon some on the first leg of our relay," Shaver said. "It's a challenge for our second leg runner to know when to take off, because you can't see when Trindon's feet are hitting the mark."

Last spring, Holliday broke the school record in the 100-meter dash four times, a record previously held by Xavier Carter, who also was a Tiger wide receiver. Carter decided after the 2005 season to turn pro in track when, in 2006, he became the first sprinter ever to win NCAA titles in the 100 meters and the 400 meters in the same day.

Holliday won the SEC outdoor title in 10.08 seconds, reduced that to 10.02 in the NCAA semifinals and ran a 10.08 finishing second in the finals. When he finished second in the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, he earned the right to represent Team USA in the IAAF World Championships.

But he declined. Why? Because of his dedication to football. "Trindon is a football player who runs track," Masterson said. "Xavier Carter was a track sprinter playing football."

The jaw-dropping thing about Holliday is that his track speed translates to football, even wearing full pads.

True, LSU equipment manager Greg Stringfellow said that Holliday may have the smallest set of shoulder pads on the team, as well as the smallest waist size (28). "But everything about him is solid," Stringfellow said. "He wears a size 38 jersey, a 9 ½ shoe. His legs are a lot stronger than you think. He's so fast that if he has the ball and if you blink for a second, he's 20 yards downfield."

Holliday is virtually full speed by his second step. He runs low to the ground, which sounds like a silly description for someone 5-5. But defenders rarely get a clear shot at him.

When they do, it's like Shaver aptly described Holliday: "He's like a bowling pin. He's able to take the hit, bounce and keep his balance."

Because of that, all these years, Holliday has never been hurt playing football. He has been able to follow his mother's instructions the day she allowed him to first go out for the team at Baker Middle School. "One day, I came home and said, 'Mom, I want to go play football this year,' " Holliday said. "Mom said, 'OK son, just take care of yourself.' "

He certainly has. And then some, because of that big 'ol heart and those fast little legs.

Ron Higgins covers the Southeastern Conference for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.