NC State

Torry Holt and coach Mike O’Cain reunited as NC State honors its former football star

After all of the kind words and “thank yous,” Torry Holt had one last request on Thursday.

“I need one more play,” the N.C. State legend said.

Everyone at Reynolds Coliseum on Thursday afternoon for the luncheon to honor Holt and his induction to the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame would have obliged.

Old No. 81 streaking one more time for one more pass at Carter-Finley Stadium? Only the NCAA would say no.

Even at 43, the pride of Gibsonville, who earned the moniker “Big Game,” looks like he could still get open for the Wolfpack or as he did so many times during his outstanding 11-year NFL career.

And the man who drew up so many plays for Holt, an All-American receiver and the 1998 ACC player of the year, also happened to be at Reynolds on Thursday.

Former N.C. State coach Mike O’Cain reunited with his star pupil for the first time in nearly 20 years. The two have talked on the phone and texted fairly regularly through the years, after Holt was a first-round pick in the 1998 NFL draft, but it had been in a minute since they had shared the same room together.

Holt was emotional when he thanked O’Cain on Thursday.

“Thank you, man, really,” Holt said to O’Cain during his remarks at the event. “I appreciate you giving me the opportunity and for believing in me.”

Record career at NC State

The only surprise was O’Cain let Holt stand in one place on Thursday while Holt made his speech. O’Cain, N.C. State’s coach from 1993 to ‘99, is a kind soul by any standard (even more so by major college coaching standards) but he was a ruthless tactician with Holt.

He moved his star receiver all over the formation, from side to side, from the slot to the outside receiver and to the backfield. If he could have figured out a way for Holt to throw passes to himself, he would have.

It was like a shell game, especially when N.C. State played Florida State. Where’s Torry?

“He was obviously the best player that we had on our football team and everybody knew it,” O’Cain said. “We moved him around and kept people from pinpointing him.”

Holt was N.C. State’s fastball and O’Cain wasn’t about to get beat by throwing any other pitch.

“The guys around him, allowed us to do that,” O’Cain said. “They weren’t pouting or anything like that. They allowed us to utilize the best player that we had and get his hands on the ball as much as we could.”

Holt was busy his junior season in ‘97: 62 catches, 1,099 yards with 16 touchdowns. He was even better the next season. No one in ACC history has ever played the position better.

Holt’s 1,604 yards (in only 11 games) still stands as the ACC single-season record. His 145.8 yards per game is nearly 25 yards better than anyone else has turned in league history.

ESPN created an all-time ACC team for the launch of the ACC Network in August and incredulously didn’t have Holt on the first team, despite the fact that Holt had more catches (150), yards (2,703) and touchdowns (27) in his best two-year stretch than either of the receivers ESPN picked.

Either way, Holt’s place in N.C. State and league history is secure. He will officially take his place in the college football hall of fame on Dec. 10.

His next goal is to get the call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of the stars of the “Greatest Show on Turf” with the St. Louis Rams in the 2000s, Holt has been semifinalist for the Canton vote each year since 2015.

No NFL receiver had more catches (868) or yards (12,594) than Holt in the first decade of the 2000s. He is one of three receivers in NFL history with six 1,300-yard seasons: Jerry Rice and Randy Moss are the other two.

“When I first got to N.C. State, I didn’t realize this was going to happen,” Holt said. “My goal was to work to be one of the best to ever play.”

Legendary work ethic

Holt’s work ethic is legendary. When he was a kid, he picked tobacco to help with the family bills and make a little extra money to buy cleats.

O’Cain praised Holt’s practice habits but also his preparation before practice. Every day during lunch, O’Cain would go into the team weight room to work out on the stair climber.

Holt would be in there with strength coach William Hicks but not lifting weights.

“He was in there catching passes,” O’Cain said. “Laying on his back, standing on his head, every kind of way he could catch a football, he did. Every day for 30 to 40 minutes at lunch.”

The pace of O’Cain’s voice quickens and his eyes light up at the memory.

“He didn’t have to do that but he did,” O’Cain said. “That’s why he is where he is today because of that work ethic.”

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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