Duke’s Holliday back on campus to stay
As Duke’s football team gathered to celebrate a breakthrough season Friday night, the player who inspired them all made sure to be there.
Blair Holliday, the sophomore wide receiver who nearly died of brain injuries suffered in a personal watercraft accident on July 4, traveled from California to the Sheraton Imperial Hotel for Duke’s football banquet.
Duke honored its 20 seniors who helped the Blue Devils qualify for the school’s first postseason bowl game since 1994. The Blue Devils lost to Cincinnati 48-34 in the Belk Bowl but showed they have come a long way from the team that went three years without a home football win from 2005-08.
“I knew that we would get to a bowl game,” Holliday said. “I didn’t know it would be this fast. I’m happy for the team that they did that. I know that we’ll get to a better, higher bowl game next year. I’m just excited to see what we do next season.”
Holliday will not be attending school this semester because Duke rules state that students who take a medical leave must sit out two semesters. His mother, Leslie Holliday, said the decision not to grant Blair a waiver “disappointed” the family.
Blair Holliday said he’s not going to let the decision set him back, and he plans to reapply to Duke for summer session this May.
“I just see it as everything happens for a reason,” Holliday said. “I didn’t get too upset about it.”
Rick Holliday, Blair’s father, said once the family understood Duke’s policies, it made it easier to understand the decision.
“I makes sense, and it’s easier to buy into it,” Rick Holliday said. “We’re moving forward.”
For Holliday, that means he has moved back to Durham for good. The Holliday family rented a house here last fall during his rehabilitation from his injuries, and Blair will be living there.
Since he’s not a student, NCAA rules allow him to work in the athletic department this semester. He will start that job within the next couple of weeks.
In addition to putting him back on campus around his teammates, it also will allow him to work toward his ultimate goal of returning to the football field.
“I’ll be up here working out a little bit, trying to get back into football shape because that’s my long-term goal is to get back to playing football,” Holliday said.
His doctors said he can’t begin the process of getting medical clearance until one year out from his injuries this July.
But he continues to take steps away from the field that display his improvement. For instance, he’s able to drive a car again.
Projected as a starter this season, Holliday suffered his head injury on Lake Tillery in Stanly County when his personal watercraft collided with one driven by teammate Jamison Crowder.
Renfree recovering, Vernon at Senior Bowl
Senior quarterback Sean Renfree was named Duke’s Most Valuable Player for the 2012 season at the banquet, while senior receiver Conner Vernon won the Clarkston Hines Award as the team’s top receiver.
Neither player was able to attend the banquet. Renfree is at home in Arizona recovering from surgery to repair the torn pectoral muscle he suffered in the Belk Bowl.
Vernon will be in Mobile, Ala., for the next week at the Senior Bowl where he will practice and play before scouts from all 32 NFL teams.
The team MVP award is the second Renfree has won at Duke, having taken the award in 2010, as well.
Renfree and Vernon also shared the Steve Brooks Captain Award along with junior cornerback Ross Cockrell and senior safety Walt Canty.
Other award winners were: Jackson Anderson (Bill Keziah Special Teams Award), Kenny Anunike (Frances Cutcliffe Spirit of Perseverance Award), Marcus Aprahamian (Mike Suglia Award), Jordon Byas (Ace Parker Award), Cockrell (Willis Aldridge Award), Crowder (Micah Harris Trinity Teammate Award), Jela Duncan (Bob Pascal Award), Tony Foster (Bill Keziah Award), Justin Foxx (Mike McGee Award), C.J. France (Vincent Rey Award & Sonny Falcone Iron Duke Award), Brian Moore (Dan “Tiger” Hill Award), Thomas Sirk (Sonny Falcone Iron Duke Award), Laken Tomlinson (K.D. Kennedy Iron Devil Award and Sonny Falcone Iron Duke Award), and Conner Vernon (Clarkston Hines Award and Steve Brooks Captain Award).