Despite position change, Carlyle Holiday still owns QB mentality

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Carlyle Holiday is a quarterback at heart.

Even now, the position is a part of him. It courses through his veins. It’s evident in the way the Notre Dame alum makes small talk at his office in San Francisco, discussing strategy using football terms that few around him understand. Years after leaving the game, and even longer after leaving the position, he can’t help but process each play on television as a series of route concepts and coverages, diagnosing the game like a cryptographer cracks a code.

Replace the jersey with a suit, the playbook with a briefcase, and Carlyle Holiday is still a quarterback — just as much now as in 1999.

“Football never leaves my mind,” Holiday said. “Even when I watch it now, I can’t watch it at a bar because I’m watching the games like I’m watching film and calling plays and things like that.”

Back then, everybody knew it. A breathtaking 6-foot-3, 215-pound athlete, Holiday made waves as a dual-threat quarterback at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, Texas, while simultaneously starring in basketball, baseball and track and field. He chose Notre Dame over Nebraska, and proceeded to overtake Matt LoVecchio and start 24 games at quarterback in his first four seasons in South Bend.

But his position, especially at Notre Dame, came with a searing spotlight.

“When you’re winning and everything is good, it’s the best experience in college football,” Holiday said. “There’s nothing that can beat it. There’s nothing better. Literally, you feel like you’re on top of the world. When you’re losing, the feeling is definitely not the same, but you have to learn to get over everything and learn to take all of the criticism.

“It’s kind of like being an NFL quarterback rather than a college quarterback at Notre Dame. It’s that high of a level of scrutiny. But playing there and quarterbacking there, even if it’s just one snap, it’s the toughest and greatest experience that you’ll ever have as a football player.”

During his tenure, Holiday experienced both extremes, leading the Irish to an 8-0 start in 2002 before fading mightily down the stretch. After stumbling out of the blocks in 2003, throwing just one touchdown with four interceptions in the team’s first three games, Holiday — a senior — was pulled in favor of freshman sensation Brady Quinn.

A natural quarterback, he was presented a choice: adapt, or leave.

“I had been playing quarterback since I was seven,” Holiday said. “When you’re in that position, you’re so used to leading. You’re kind of like a coach on the field the whole time. To have that taken away was tough.

“But I was fortunate that it did happen at a place like Notre Dame. I think if it had happened somewhere else, I may have transferred. But at Notre Dame, I had made so many great relationships there and I had so much respect for the program. As you’re there and you’re playing football, you just realize how special it is. You get that mentality, ‘I’ll just do what I need to do as long as I can be a part of this team.’

“If it wasn’t for a place like Notre Dame, I probably would have transferred. But being the special place that it is, it made me stick through it and it gave me the courage to go ahead and switch positions.”

Suddenly, Holiday was a quarterback playing wide receiver. And while that meant handing in his red jersey and learning the game from a different angle, he still possessed the internal fortitude to make it work.

“It may be really rough for the first couple months, but you get used to it,” Holiday said. “If you’re an athlete, you feel like you can adjust. You have to get into that mentality where you’re going to get hit a different way. You’re not going to necessarily be in charge, even though you’ll still be a leader on the team.”

Holiday did adjust — both at Notre Dame and in the NFL. Though he caught just five passes in his final two seasons in South Bend, the fifth-year senior returned 29 punts for 314 yards in 2004, finding a new avenue for his athleticism. He went on to play four seasons in the NFL, splitting time between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, including nine catches for 126 yards in 2006.

One of those catches, however, overshadowed the rest. Holiday hauled in Brett Favre’s 4,968th completion, which passed Dan Marino for the top spot on the all-time list.

“It was my second game up there,” Holiday recalled with a laugh. “The thing with Favre is that you always have to expect the ball. There are some teams where you know that only certain receivers are going to get thrown to. But with Favre, he’ll throw a deep route on 4th and 1 if he wants to, if you’re open.

“He just threw me a slant route and I caught it. I didn’t actually know I caught (the record), because I had just gotten up there. The game stops, and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ Oh, that’s great — one of Favre’s records. And he threw it to a guy that just got on the team.”

Holiday’s career ended after the 2007 season, when the steady accumulation of countless damaging hits finally made the quarterback-turned-receiver consider life after football. Nowadays, he works as a recruiter for McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, identifying and pursuing doctors and lawyers from the top schools around the country.

But inside the businessman, there’s still a quarterback.

"Even if I'm playing basketball, I'm like a coach on the field," Holiday said. "It's something that never leaves."

Someday, Holiday’s zest for the game may drive him to coaching, to a career in the sport that led him from sweltering Texas Friday nights to brisk South Bend Saturdays, to a few memorable catches on the frozen tundra in Green Bay.

If he does explore that path, Holiday will have no shortage of potential landing spots. Head coaches Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) and Steve Addazio (Boston College) were all on Notre Dame’s staff while Holiday lined up under center.

“It’s definitely something where I feel like I can reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, can I get a starting point somewhere?’” Holiday said. “I definitely think it’s still something on the table.

“But right now, I’m still learning a lot at what I do. As long as that stays true, I’ll stick to what I’m doing.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Carlyle Holiday gently lobs a pass over the outstretched hands of Ryan Gonsales in a game against Pittsburgh on Oct. 6, 2001 (SBT Photo/Jim Rider).
Former Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday may pursue a future in coaching. (SBT Photo/Joe Raymond)
Former Notre Dame football player Carlyle Holiday made a position switch from quarterback to wide receiver in 2003. (SBT Photo/Joe Raymond)