Two weeks ago Alabama native Thomas Holloway was home from West Point for Thanksgiving and attended the annual Iron Bowl that matches bitter in-state rivals Alabama and Auburn.
Holloway considers himself more of an Auburn fan, but as he grew older in his high school years watching college rivalries on TV, there was another late-season rivalry that caught his attention.
Coming out of Birmingham Oak Mountain, he wasn't your typical 4-5 star recruit that is typically recruited by Alabama or Auburn. In fact, he had to walk-on to earn a spot on Army's roster since he wasn't recruited by the Black Knights, Navy or Air Force.
But the Army sophomore free safety has forced his way into the America's most storied rivalry with the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder slated to start in the 112th Army-Navy game at 2:30 ET Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
"Alabama and Auburn have tradition and diehard fans, but there is no place I'd rather be than in this game," Holloway said of facing Navy. "I'm not focused just on football. The people here have a bigger picture in life. We're going to serve our country.
"I wanted to go to a service academy, and this place is more challenging than any place I could be. There are good people here. I wouldn't get as much honor out of playing in a rivalry game in any other place than here."
Holloway watched last year's Army-Navy game from the sidelines as a freshman reserve player.
Alabama and Auburn have tradition and diehard fans, but there is no place I'd rather be than in this game (Army-Navy).
- Army Free Safety, Thomas Holloway
"Last year I didn't know what to expect because I had only seen the game on TV," he said. "But it started to hit me after the pep rally with the week leading up to the game. You don't realize just how much of West Point revolves around the Army-Navy game until you're a part of it. I was hyped last year, but I'm looking forward to be on the field with the excitement and flying around this year."
Holloway played a backup role to fellow sophomore, Tyler Dickson in the season opener at Northern Illinois before making his first start in the season's fifth game in the win over Tulane.
He's slated to make his fifth straight start and seventh overall against Navy as the Black Knights' second-leading tackler. His 72 tackles (42 solo) trails only senior linebacker Steve Erzinger's 92. The emerging safety also has an interception and a fumble recovery.
"I didn't expect to play this much this year," Holloway said. "I feel fortunate the way things have worked out for me, but I'm always looking to improve and get better. I'm beyond happy about my role - I'm doing all I can to help the team."
"To be honest with you, I thought I would feel uncomfortable when I got into the first game. But I tried to treat it just like a high school game. I stayed focused on the field and not the lights, fans and cameras. I zeroed in on what was going on on the field. That set the tone for the rest of the season."
Army is only 3-8 and Navy 4-7 with no bowl game prospects entering Saturday's game, but Holloway says the only number that matters is ending Navy's nine-game winning streak in the rivalry so the seniors can finish their careers with a win over the Midshipmen.
"Nothing gets us down and we're proud of that," Holloway said of the team's record. "Everybody from the younger guys to the upperclassmen and from the scout team to the starters knows they are playing a huge role to get the seniors this win."
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