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December 15, 2005They say once you move to Arizona you'll never want to leave.
That was definitely the case for Louis Holmes, the nation's No. 1 junior college player and five-star prospect. After moving to Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College to continue his football career, Holmes fell in love with the people, scenery and weather in Arizona. He also fell in love with the up-and-coming football program at Arizona.
Holmes announced just moments ago at a news conference in the Scottsdale C.C. gymnasium he was going to sign a letter-of-intent with Mike Stoops' program and play next season for the Wildcats.
"It's the right decision for me and my family, and it's the right place for me," Holmes, who is 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, said.
"I came to Arizona looking to find a home after a tough time in Florida and then at prep school in Maine. The good people of Arizona opened their arms to me and made me part of their family, so it's only fitting that I decided to stay and play football for the Wildcats."
After signing originally with Ohio State out of Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard, Holmes went to prep school in Maine when he didn't qualify. He was set on returning to the Buckeyes, but a change in assistant coaches at Ohio State left him without direction on what he should do with his future.
That's when he turned to his god brother. His god brother hooked up Holmes up with Chad Ikei in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ikei is the director of sports performance at Power Train, a center that trains professional athletes from the NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball. Holmes came out to Arizona to work with Ikei, get in better physical shape and think about his future.
He ended up liking it so much that he enrolled at Scottsdale C.C., where he eventually turned into the nation's most heavily recruited junior college football prospect. And a long the way he built a great bond with Ikei and many other people in Arizona. Holmes said it was those relationships that helped make the decision to play for the Wildcats an easy one to make.
"I felt like I didn't have any direction in life before I came out here and got to be around people that truly cared for me," Holmes said. "I couldn't leave the friendships and bonds I created. I felt like I created those same bonds with the coaches and the people at Arizona. It just all made sense for me."
Holmes decision might come as a surprise to those that haven't followed his recruitment closely the past few weeks. Holmes admitted he was leaning heavily toward USC at one point in the recruiting process.
An official visit in early October had the Trojans high on his list, and he also was afraid at one point that he would have a lot of pressure on him to succeed if he went to Arizona.
"I've been to Arizona a lot, but it'd be kind of tough to go there," Holmes said in late October.
"When I came here they had won like three games in three years, and it was kind of hard. I helped change it around and really felt like I did something special, but I don't know if I can put a whole school on my back and help turn another team around again. It'd be a lot of pressure on me to do something like that."
But the more Holmes learned more about the Wildcat program and its future the more he got excited about what role he would play with the program. Instead of viewing himself as the big fish in a little pond, he said at Arizona he would be a big fish in a pond that's about to include other big fish.
"When you talked to coach Stoops and the players on the team, you could tell they're on the brink of something special there," Holmes said.
"After watching how they beat UCLA and did a lot of great things with some young guys, you can tell they're going to be a very good team next year. They have a great recruiting class coming in, too. They're on their way up, and I want to be part of it."
Holmes said he's ready to make things happen in Tucson.
"It came down to USC and Arizona, and it was real tough," Holmes said at the press conference. "I had a hard time picking, but I had to pick where I felt most comfortable. Coach Stoops has turned that program around.
"I'm not a bandwagon guy, but I'm excited about the direction of the program. I want to be part of something new and something special. I want to help the Wildcats start something special. I'm ready to go make my mark for the Wildcats."
Stoops is getting an amazing athlete in Holmes.
With his pledge, he becomes the most highly decorated player to commit to the Wildcats under Stoops. In his two year career at Scottsdale he had 192 tackles and 40 tackles for a loss and he turned down offers from USC, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, UCLA, Tennessee and countless others to play for the Wildcats.
"We've never had a player like him," Scottsdale defensive coordinator Doug Madoski said. "He is one of those players that only comes along every so often. He's going to be a force on the next level without question."
Holmes was such a great athlete that he starred last season for the Scottsdale basketball team.
"Louis could have been a D-I basketball player," Artichoke basketball coach Paul Eberhardt said. "He is a talented, talented kid and a very good kid. When Louis had the ball nobody could guard him."