Russell Holmes hopes to lead BYU to its fourth National Championship. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Peer pressure doesn't always have to be negative. Just ask BYU middle blocker Russell Holmes.
Holmes, who demands attention with his 6-foot-8 frame, didn't start playing volleyball until he was a junior in high school. It was then that Holmes followed a friend's suggestion to give the sport a try.
"I started playing volleyball as a junior in high school," Holmes said. "I had a friend who was on the volleyball team while I was playing varsity soccer. My friend suggested that I should come and try out."
If the learning curve was steep, Holmes didn't show it as he made an immediate impact on his various teams that caught the attention of NCAA recruiters. Holmes lettered twice at Fountain Valley High School and was named first-team All-Sunset League. He also played club volleyball for the Long Beach Club and went to the Junior Olympics. He was heralded as an All-American at the Junior Olympics and was named to the Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 in 2001.
"Based on my height and athletic ability, my friends helped convince me to play and were the biggest influence on me early on," Holmes said.
Ironically, Holmes had all his success in just two years of competitive volleyball. He earned more soccer letters (three) than volleyball letters while in high school.
"You can start playing volleyball at such a young age in Southern California," Holmes said. "It is a lot bigger there and it helps that you can go to the beaches and play."
Coming to BYU
As a high school star, Holmes got a lot of attention from colleges. Former BYU head coach Carl McGown recruited Holmes heavily as he came out of high school. For Holmes, the choice to come to BYU was a no-brainer.
"I always wanted to be affiliated with BYU," he said. "My older sister came to BYU, and I really looked up to her. I always wanted to come here and be involved in athletics. As I progressed in volleyball and got better and I saw that BYU had built such a great volleyball program, I new it was the right place. The LDS [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] environment helped solidify my decision."
The fact that Holmes came out of high school in 2001, the same year the Cougars won their second National Championship in three years, further encouraged him to make the decision to come to BYU.
"I wanted to be a part of a great program," Holmes added. "Seeing BYU win the National Championship made me excited to come here."
Holmes's dream came true when he signed with the Cougars out of high school. He notes that his most memorable volleyball moment was not on the court or towering above the net, but it was in his home with a pen in hand signing his letter of intent with BYU.
Holmes put off his playing career when he decided to serve a church mission right out of high school. He spent two years in London, England, doing what he called the most important work of his life.
Upon returning, Holmes was asked to redshirt as a freshman in 2004. The Cougars
went on to win their third National Championship in six years.
"Because of my competitive nature, I would have liked to have played a larger role on the National Championship team," Holmes said. "But I learned from those that won that year. I tried to learn what I need to know and what I need to do to help my team compete at that level and to hopefully get another championship. Seeing from the outside ended up being a good experience because I could see how winning affected the guys."
Holmes began to get his chance to shine as a redshirt freshman in 2005. He played in all 30 matches, starting 13. On March 26, Holmes came off the bench to spark his team in a win over No. 7 Long Beach State. He tallied four kills, four blocks and three digs in the 3-2 victory.
Last season as a sophomore, Holmes entered the year with high expectations. He delivered, earning second-team AVCA All-America and second-team All-MPSF honors while leading the Cougars to a No. 1 ranking. Holmes's 155 blocks were second most in a BYU rally scoring season.
"Russell deserved the all-conference and All-American honors last year because of his dedication and consistency," BYU co-interim head coach Shawn Patchell said. "He has the possibility of being first team All-American and even national player of the year if he continues to work hard and leads by example."
Holmes doesn't dwell on his personal accomplishments. In fact, he attributes most of his success to other people.
"I couldn't pinpoint one single person that had the biggest influence on my playing career," Holmes said. "My parents were key in supporting what I did and making sure I could get into all of the camps and clubs. Also, since I didn't start playing until I was 17, I have had great coaches teach me what I need to know fundamentally to succeed."
Holmes adds that his current coaches help him improve on the court while his wife, Julie, helps him maintain balance off the court.
"Life is very busy as a married student athlete," he said. "But it is also a lot of fun. Before we met, my wife didn't even follow volleyball. Now, she has a bigger heart than I do for volleyball. She is a great support system. She is motivating and encouraging and is always there for me."
Holmes's selfless play is evident when asked what his goals for the upcoming season will be.
"Our goal is to win a National Championship," he said.
When asked what personal goals he has, the conversation swings back to the team.
"My personal goal would be to help this team in any way possible to be champions," Holmes said. "I would like to help my team by improving as a leader and helping the underclassman coming in."
Looking to the 2007 season, the Cougars have a lot of returning talent from a team that was ranked preseason No. 1 a year ago. BYU will draw heavily on Holmes for his ability and leadership.
BYU has won a National Championship at least every third year since 1999, winning national crowns in 1999, 2001 and 2004. This season the Cougars will look to maintain their championship prowess going for a fourth championship in eight years.
What can BYU fans expect to see from the 2007 version of Cougar men's volleyball?
"Some exciting volleyball," Holmes says. "We have a lot of talent on our team and they can expect a lot of wins."
What should fans expect to see from Holmes?
"Russell has shown early on that he will be a leader on this year's team." Co-interim head coach Ryan Millar said. " His presence on the court will be a valuable asset to this teams success."
As a returning All-American, Holmes has only played volleyball since 2001. And that doesn't take into account the two years away from the sport on his mission. In his amazing rise from a 17-year-old soccer player that hadn't thought of playing volleyball to a junior leader on one of the best men's volleyball programs in the nation, Holmes keeps everything in perspective.
"I'm just a laid back guy," Holmes says. "I like to hang out with my wife and my friends."
Hanging out with the right friends six years ago helped change Holmes's life and helped maintain BYU men's volleyball as a dominant program.
BYU volleyball fans can give a collective thanks to positive peer pressure.