Xavier Holley learned a life lesson that put a lot of things in his world into perspective.
Unfortunately for the 19-year-old, it took a major injury and losing something very important to him to figure out that sometimes things do work out for the best.
The Augustana sophomore beams when he talks about being able to play football — either for his current Augustana Vikings or his prep Bettendorf Bulldogs squad. That is just how much the game means to him. He knew that while he was growing up, but that fact really hit home when he didn't have it.
In the summer before his senior Bulldog season, he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Of course, the injury happened the first day of camp at St. Ambrose, where he was looking to improve his skills and his stock for his college future.
“Not too many people know what it feels like to have something that important taken away from you,” said Holley, now a starting defensive end for the Vikings. "All I could think about when I was out there on Friday night watching my best friends play was 'I really want to be back out there on that field with the pads and helmet on.' I couldn't wait for it.”
But, he had to, relegated to watching as the Bulldogs ran to a 12-1 season that finished in the state semifinals. Surgery and rehab took a while, but he pushed it enough to return for his senior track season, throwing discus for the 'Dogs.
Football was another story. There was still work to do before he was ready for the college game. And then another setback — being in concussion protocol — delayed his varsity debut until late in his freshman season.
Now, not only is he starting for the Vikings and being a major force on defense, but he is looked upon as a guy the program is building around.
“He's a very interesting kid, has a great personality and is a really good football player,” said third-year Augie head coach Steve Bell. “He's still not close to where he will be as a junior and senior, and his continued progression for us is huge.”
That he is even a Viking — one who is among team leaders with two tackles for loss and a sack among his 11 stops — is also a major part of the story.
As a standout prep, his stock was rising. He was looking at being a major-college recruit as a dominating defensive lineman. Bigger and stronger than everyone he played against, Holley said he felt like the “big man on campus.”
With the injury, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder felt deflated.
“My senior year, I didn't feel like nobody could stop me, and I would have went someplace bigger,” admitted Holley. “I had some selfish thoughts going on. I was a little immature.”
With perspective on his side, the communications major realizes that the story was written as it should have been.
“Since I've been here, I'm actually very grateful to Augustana for giving me the chance to play football,” admitted the humble Holley. “I love these guys I play with now. I'm sure if I played my senior season (in high school) that I wouldn't have met some of my best friends here, so I look at it that way.”
Now, he's just looking for the perfect ending to his football story.