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Abraham Lincoln football star Holley picks Penn State

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Abraham Lincoln’s Thomas Holley had two new destinations to speak of this week. One will be where he will call home, and the other where he’ll play his college football.

The defensive tackle verbally committed Tuesday to suit up for Penn State and head coach Bill O’Brien instead of Florida next season. He made the decision while he and his family moved from Fresh Meadows to Jamaica in Queens.

“It was hectic and it wasn’t even about the football,” the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Holley said. “I’m sitting here moving, packing bags and trying to talk to my aunt and uncle.”

His choice between the two programs came down to a chance to stay closer to home and the strong bond he forged with Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who spoke with Holley as much about life as he did football.

“When I talked to coach Johnson, the relationship I had with him was a little bit different,” Holley said. “It was unique. It was something special.”

The Nittany Lions’ most valuable player this season was defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. Jones, a potential first-round selection in this year’s NFL Draft, told Holley on his official visit in October that Johnson fulfilled all the promises he made about improving his game.

The chance to develop his talent is important for Holley, who just started playing football last season. He had been a highly regarded basketball player at Christ the King before transferring to Lincoln. Holley has played in just 21 football games in his career, but has tremendous potential.

“If he continues to stay humble and motivated, this kid can really be something good for Penn State moving forward,” Lincoln coach Shawn O’Connor said.

Holley became the first city product to commit to Penn State since the revelation of the Jerry Sandusky scandal in 2011. He wants to be a part of bringing the program back to its former glory, and have some of that shine reflect onto him.

“I think I cannot only be a part of it,” Holley said. “Knowing me, I have the drive and will to be on top — I want to be face of the Big Ten.”

Holley is the No. 3 ranked player at his position and 63rd in the nation by Rivals.com. Holley, who had 67 tackles and seven sacks this season, helped lead Lincoln to the Public School Athletic League City conference football city title. Just two years ago, no one knew if any of this would be possible.

“It’s been a little different seeing a kid who can go play for Penn State learning the rules and how to put equipment on,” O’Connor said.

Holley felt relief at having the recruiting process over with, and a conviction that he made the right decision. He can now enjoy his the rest of his senior year — and his two new homes.

“It’s been a great, great week,” Holley said.

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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