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All-Star Gridder Has Glory--This Game Is for Niece Who Died : Muir’s Darick Holmes Carries Haunting Memory Into Friday’s East-West Contest

Times Staff Writer

The big, swift kid with the electrifying moves and the No. 1 jersey won’t be seeking personal glory Friday night.

Instead, the all-star football game will be an arena where former Muir High School star Darick Holmes plans to give a lasting tribute to a loved one, 2-year-old niece Destiny, who died from tumor complications this month.

Holmes is one of 84 San Gabriel Valley graduated prep football stars slated to play in the 10th annual Hall of Fame All-Star football game. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. Friday at Citrus College Stadium in Glendora.

The game will showcase the talents of last year’s pool of outstanding high school seniors, of which Holmes, a receiver on the West squad, is arguably the top performer.

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“I watched him quite a bit last year,” says Hugh Von Plater, the all-star game organizer, “and I believe he was the best football player in Southern California. He ran in an offense that was basically ‘Give it to Darick, and let him do it.’ ”

Muir’s Mustangs depended almost exclusively on the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder. Playing option quarterback, Holmes skirted defenders to score 23 touchdowns, backed by 1,315 rushing yards. He completed nearly 50% of his passes for another 793 yards and seven scores. He was a first-team all-state selection.

So far, 40 of the all-star game players have committed to head off for grid glory at the junior college level. Holmes is one of those ticketed for a JC program, although his talent and heavy recruitment certified him as a Division I player. His grades, however, didn’t.

Like many high school freshmen, Holmes paid more attention to activities outside the lecture hall.

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“My freshman and sophomore years I did real poor in school. If I hadn’t transferred, I think I would have dropped out of school,” said Holmes, who attended Pasadena High for a year and a half before switching to Muir.

In order to make up for lost class credits, Holmes enlisted the aid of track Coach Clyde Turner to persuade the principal to allow him to take after-school courses. Each day, after football practice, Holmes attended two extra class periods.

The experience motivated his classroom awareness, and Holmes walked across the stage on graduation night with a 2.7 grade-point average.

But a lack of required preparatory courses made entrance into a four-year school nearly impossible. “He was working so hard just trying to graduate on time that it would have been impossible to take all the foreign language and science courses. He was essentially two years behind,” said Turner.

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So, like countless other star athletes who stumbled academically, Holmes will spend at least two years at a JC. After listening through the plethora of coaches seeking his skills, he settled on Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

“He really is a bright kid,” said Turner, who also coaches Holmes as a football assistant at Muir. “Sometimes kids get to high school and studying doesn’t really hit them for the first couple of years. That’s what happened to Darick.”

But on the field, the football scene was the only thing hit by Holmes. Before his academic deficiencies surfaced, Nebraska, USC and Brigham Young wanted the multifaceted player to come to their campuses and play what they saw as his most natural position--wide receiver.

After an enviable ponder, Jim Hall, coach of the West All-Stars and Rosemead High, also decided that’s where he wanted Holmes to play.

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Said Hall: “He has those moves you can’t teach. He has great speed and the elusiveness of a running back. If a coach had to, he could play him anywhere, and Darick would probably do it too, because I’ve seen nothing but a gentleman attitude from the young man.”

His natural speed is what prompted Turner to talk Holmes into going out for the track squad, even though he had never put on running spikes. This past spring, Holmes finished runner-up to the league champ in both the 100 and 200-meter sprints. He also ran the get-a-lead second leg of Muir’s 4x100-meter relay crew that took fourth at the state meet.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if someone could train him he could be a world-class sprinter,” Von Plater said.

Holmes combines that speed with deft stop-and-go moves and a shaking, spinning running style that frustrates opponents trying to draw a bead on him. “He’s real quick and agile. You either hit him on the side or not at all. He’s also real slippery with lots of fakes. Tons of fakes,” said linebacker Erich Trapp, a member of the West team and a defender when his Arcadia team beat Holmes and Muir in a 14-6 squeaker last year.

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Brad Spencer, another Arcadia player suiting up for the West cuts in and turns to Trapp to say proudly: “We held him to under 100 yards, didn’t we? Yeah, I think we did.”

Jim Brownfield, a former Muir coach who caught the beginning of Holmes’ high-wire football act before retiring, says the soft-spoken, somewhat shy young man is the best of Muir’s storied line of football players:

“Of the 57 kids who went on full rides (scholarships) from Muir while I was there, he’s the best of the bunch. I’m not naming no names, but he’s for sure the very best one they’ve had.”

Some of the names Brownfield won’t mention include Muir alums Anthony Miller, a receiver at the University of Tennessee and currently with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, and Ricky Ervins, a current tailback at USC primed for a starting slot.

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Holmes eventually aims to play major college football, and he says biding his time at a junior college with a throwing quarterback (“I want to go to a team with a good quarterback, even if that’s Baloney State”) can only enhance his skills.

“When I’m ready to play for a big school, I would like to go to Miami, because I like the way their receivers play. They play real cocky, and that’s the type of player I am on the field. Off the field, I’m friendly and good to get along with. On the field, I’m business. Even if they’re (teammates) my friends, I’ll let them know if they’re making mistakes,” he said.

Holmes, who is as soft spoken out of uniform as his uniform is flashy (the back of his Muir jersey reads “D-Loc” D. L. Holmes) won’t be doing much talking Friday night on the Citrus field. He plans on letting his actions and a messaged towel do the communicating.

His performance will tell football circles everywhere that his short dip into the obscurity of junior college football is not the last of him as a player--and the towel hanging from his waist, with the words Destiny, Rest in Peace in large letters, will remind him of a game being played in dedication to a loved one.

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