One of the guys you’ll be rooting for this year might have cooked you chicken wings last year.
Wide receiver Johnny Holton joined the Bearcats program last year after two seasons at a junior college in Illinois, only to find out that he wouldn’t be allowed to play.
“He practiced with us for a couple of days and then the NCAA kicked out a grade,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He had to go back to school, re-take that, and now he’s back this year.”
Holton was not allowed to practice or work out with the team until he gained eligibility.
“I had to finish taking classes online, so I stayed up here in Cincinnati and got a job at Buffalo Wild Wings,” Holton told me. “I was in the back cooking wings.”
It was a familiar story for the Miami, Florida native who worked at a grocery store during his high school years instead of playing football.
“I have 10 siblings and it was hard for my mother to take care of them, so I decided to get a job and try to help out a little bit,” said Holton. “I played Pop Warner but I stopped at the age of 13. That was the last time I played until I was 19 and went off to the College of DuPage and played junior college football for two years.
“I was playing flag football with one of my fellow students at Coral Cables High School. He was going to play football at the College of DuPage and asked me if I wanted to go there. I told him I would like to give it a shot, but I didn’t have any film. So I flew out there and tried out and they gave me a chance.”
In two junior college seasons, Johnny had 40 catches for 837 yards (20.9 ypc) and 15 touchdowns.
“He’s kind of a thin kid, but he’s very strong for his build,” said Tuberville. “His top-end speed is out of sight, and that’s what you’re looking for in an outside receiver.”
Holton is 6’3”, 190 pounds, and says that he’s been timed at 4.34 in the 40-yard dash. In addition to playing wide receiver, Johnny will return kickoffs.
“Not only is he fast – he’s physical,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “We always talk about competing and there are some guys that compete most of the time. He competes all of the time. When that ball is up in the air, he wants it.”
“I have a lot to learn,” said Holton. “I’m working with (wide receivers) Coach (Blake) Rolan and I’m getting better each and every day.”
After bagging groceries and cooking chicken wings, Holton has the potential to eventually make money playing in the NFL.
“I believe that with all of my heart,” said Gran. “If he keeps working and keeps listening to (strength coach) Joe Walker and Tommy Tuberville on how to develop and continues to improve every single day from now until when he graduates, I think the sky is the limit for him.
“From last year when he stepped on campus to now, it’s night and day. He had some setbacks with school and everything, but he came through that and I’m so proud of him.”
Since learning this winter that he would be eligible to play for Cincinnati in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Holton has looked forward the season opener against Toledo.
“There were tears of joy,” Johnny told me. “My first game is going to be a little emotional. I thank the compliance office for helping me out. I’m just blessed and thank God for everything.”
“He smiles all the time, he’s glad to be here, and he works his tail off,” said Tuberville. “He’s got some weaknesses from not playing a lot of football, but we’re really glad to have Johnny here because he can stretch the field for us.”
It sounds like the kid that cooked wings can fly.
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