Desean Holmes’ young career has already taken enough twist and turns to rival the attractions at Magic Mountain, which he’s played in the shadows of this past season at College of the Canyons.
Once a four-star wide receiver recruit out of Bishop Alemany, with offers to schools like USC, UCLA and Oklahoma, his path hasn’t aligned with a typical blue-chip prospect’s.
Before landing at COC, there was a legitimate chance his elite skills may never make it to a Football Bowl Subdivision program. Those concerns were laid to rest for the time being, though, when he announced his commitment Monday to play for Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic after taking an official visit last Saturday.
“Honestly, I’m just blessed to be given a second chance at a dream of mine since I was a kid,” Holmes said Wednesday.
Holmes decommitted from USC, which underwent three coaching changes while he was in high school, in December of his senior year. He was a last-minute addition to San Diego State’s 2015 class.
As quickly as he pulled the trigger on SDSU, he was gone.
A week into the school year, Holmes was nowhere to be found. He didn’t show up to the team’s preseason weightlifting program and his dorm room was cleaned out.
“The young man has a lot of problems, way too many for us to handle,” SDSU coach Rocky Long said to the San Diego Union-Tribune in September 2015. “Obviously, he wasn’t ready to be here.”
Holmes acknowledged that he wasn’t.
Though he lived with foster parents in high school, he cited personal issues revolving around his biological mother, Artesia, as his reason for leaving the program.
“I wasn’t in the right state of mind,” Holmes said, “so I just took off.”
Holmes worked out from home that season. Ted Iacenda — COC’s current head football coach, who was an Alemany assistant while Holmes played there — watched from afar.
“When he left SDSU, I reached out to him and let him know, ‘Hey, remember I’m always here for you,’” Iacenda said. “At that point, he was done with football. I checked in from time-to-time but wanted to give him his space.”
When Iacenda found out Holmes would be attending Southern Utah for the 2016 season, he once again checked in.
“No offense to Southern Utah, but I knew this guy belonged in an FBS program,” Iacenda said. “I told him to keep in touch and that I was here to help if anything changes.”
Shortly after his lone season with Southern Utah, Holmes sent a text message to Iacenda.
“He asked me what he needed to get to a big-time school,” Iacenda said.
Iacenda pointed to Marquise Brown, who needed just a season at COC to earn a scholarship at Oklahoma. He’s currently the Sooners’ leading receiver as they prepare for the Rose Bowl against Georgia.
“Having that vision of seeing someone who made the move before, it was perfect timing,” Holmes said.
Like Brown, Holmes tore it up in what would be his only season with Canyons. He recorded 52 catches for 912 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games.
Kiffin, who offered Holmes as a high-school sophomore while he was the head coach at USC, again offered him just a four games into his COC career.
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Coaches from Power Five programs had kept tabs on Holmes, but were hesitant to offer until seeing how their high school classes shook out.
Holmes was done playing the waiting game.
“I feel like with my talent, I should’ve been offered more,” Holmes said. “But I’m not going to be anybody’s second choice.”
FAU certainly isn’t your typical Group of Five program. And that starts with Kiffin, who’s had head-coaching stints at Tennessee and USC, in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and worked as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama for three seasons.
“He has so much insight because he’s been around these amazing programs,” Holmes said. “His first season (at FAU), they’ve won 10 games already. They only won three last year. I was thinking, ‘This is the type of coach I need to be around.’”
If all goes according to plan, Holmes will join FAU in early February. He spoke highly of Boca Raton, Fla., where FAU’s located, situated about an hour north of Miami and along the Atlantic Ocean.
“It reminded me of home,” Holmes said.
Holmes’ verbal commitment was bittersweet for Iacenda, who’s known the 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver since he was 13.
He was obviously ecstatic to see a dream realized but he gets the sense there won’t be a return home this time around.
“It’s why I do the job,” Iacenda said. “You see all the hardships he’s had to deal with. For me to be a small part of his journey, I’m incredibly grateful. I’m going to miss being around him every day.”