By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
It’s been a long road for sixth-year senior wide receiver Gavin Holmes, one that almost seems impossible to come back from. Gavin has been around for a while — long enough to have seen the ups and downs of Baylor football in recent history.
But, unfortunately, his viewpoint has been mostly from the sidelines.
In 2017, Holmes’ freshman year, the four-star wide receiver recruit tore his ACL against Texas Tech University in a 38-24 loss at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Then, nearly a year later, his body rejected a cadaver ligament that was supposed to support his initial tear, thus prolonging his return.
Setback after setback kept Gavin off the field, and it wasn’t until 2021 that he was able to play in his first intrasquad spring scrimmage. The Justin native’s offseasons weren’t spent preparing for upcoming fall camps; they were full of rehab.
As it looked like the tide had finally shifted, Gavin had tweaked his hamstring before the Bears’ (1-1) 2022 home opener against the University of Albany. This wouldn’t keep him off the field, though. He wasn’t going to allow it.
Gavin was set as the return-man for a UAlbany punt in the first quarter of Baylor’s 69-10 win. The first go-around, Gavin had called for a fair catch, not liking his options. This time, he took the ball and found space, as he exploded for a 72-yard touchdown return.
Five years later, Gavin was back in the end zone, and he said it felt good to be there.
“I’ll never forget it. it was just fun,” Gavin said. “I missed being in the end zone. It was special, my family was there. Just to get the embrace and the love from my teammates and my coaches when I came off [the field], it meant the world to me.”
When he received the kick, Gavin said he knew it was a no-doubter.
“Yeah, I had a feeling, because initially the guys were shading right,” Gavin said. “He cross-kicked it, so I knew I was going to have space. And once I made that first guy miss, it just opened up and I did my thing. It was a really incredible performance.”
Gavin’s family was, without a doubt, in attendance to see him healthy and back in the green and gold. Gavin’s dad, Matt Holmes, said when he watches his son play, he can’t even sit in his seat for at least the first half.
Matt said he has to pace around the concourse while the rest of the family stays in their seats. He said seeing Gavin score that touchdown was truly special, but that the emotions really hit him once he saw three children impersonating his son during halftime.
“As I walked out at halftime, outside in the breezeway, there were three little kids playing football,” Matt said. “They were arguing. One said, ‘I want to be Gavin Holmes.’ And then another one said ‘No, I want to be Gavin Holmes.’ Man, that just hit me hard.”
Gavin had support from his family, Baylor fans and of course, his teammates. Fifth-year senior cornerback Mark Milton was fired up to see Gavin score and bounce back from adversity.
“To be able to see him go and play his first game that I’ve seen him, he scored, and I was like, ‘Yes!’ I was at a loss for words because I knew how much it meant to him, the team and I knew how much it meant to his parents,” Milton said. “So, it was a blessing. A lot of people would have given up, but he didn’t. I prayed for him after the game because I was so happy to see him do that.”
Milton said it would have been easy to give up after all Gavin’s been through. It’s not often you see athletes come back from ACL tears and subsequent injuries. The journey started with a moment Matt said he recalls very clearly: When Gavin’s world was first turned upside down.
“[I remember] that moment like it was yesterday, when we were at the Cowboys’ Stadium and he went down on that knee with that hit,” Matt said. “We went underneath the stadium, they came and got us right away. He was in the little hospital area they had, he was in uniform and he was just in tears. That was just so tough, we all cried.”
For Gavin to push through not only that, but every misfortune that followed, Matt said it taught him perseverance and strength on a whole different level.
“Just watching him go through that, I may have shown him things or taught him things, but that’s a moment where he’s actually shown and taught me some things too,” Matt said. “He came back, it’s not easy. [The] easy thing to do would be to quit.”
Amid Gavin’s complications and rocky road, he did have one consistent beam of support. That came in the form of teammate Milton.
“Oh, man, since I was a freshman until now, I’ve seen him get hurt, I’ve seen him come back from it, I’ve seen his mindset,” Milton said. “After he had the surgery, I saw him in the locker room, and I told him, ‘Hey, if you ever need something, let me know.’ Because I know you get down in the dumps whenever stuff like that happens.”
Gavin’s route has been anything but ideal. However, Matt said he and the Holmes family put their faith in God and believe everything happens for a reason. Gavin could have attended countless other programs and had a different path, but to Matt, being at Baylor has been the right choice.
“He had over 40 offers,” Matt said. “He could have gone to UCLA, Notre Dame, Oregon and he chose his school. There’s a purpose or reason for that.”
For head coach Dave Aranda, he was touched by Gavin’s momentous recovery, as he said Gavin’s traits are some he wishes his children could clone.
“I would hope that my son and my daughters kind of have the heart that he has, and just the awareness and the compassion that he has,” Aranda said. “So you root hard for guys like that. And for him to have an opportunity, man, that’s so cool. It could not happen to a better dude.”