Florham Park, N.J. — Valentine Holmes was as massive a star in Australia as he could have ever imagined.
Holmes, a standout winger and fullback for the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks of the National Rugby League, was recognized wherever he went, with die-hard fans donning his team’s jersey and wide-eyed youngsters wanting to play just like him.
And then, Holmes stunningly left it all behind.
He headed to the United States for a chance to play American football in the NFL, a decision that angered some of those same fans who once cheered him. But Holmes needed to tackle his dream — no matter what everyone else thought.
“I just felt like I wanted to test myself as a person and an athlete,” 24-year-old Holmes said. “I wasn’t really thinking about what I was giving up, I guess. It was just that I wanted to chase more.”
Holmes is in training camp with the New York Jets competing for a roster spot as a running back, wide receiver and return specialist.
He’s here — 10,000 miles from home — as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program. This summer, all four AFC East teams — the Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots — can carry an international player in camp. It’s a long shot, but players can earn a place on the 53-man active roster. If they don’t, they are eligible for a practice squad exemption, meaning they wouldn’t count against the team’s allotment of 10 non-active roster players during the regular season.
Holmes first worked out for NFL scouts in Los Angeles in 2016, and spent three months early this year learning the game at IMG Academy in Florida before joining the Jets in the spring.
“I’d say it’s been kind of like a roller-coaster,” Holmes said. “Obviously, I’ve had some ups and downs. Learning the playbook and getting stuff wrong is not always good, just making mistakes on the field or even in the classroom. And then, also making good plays and making good stops is also a good thing, as well.
“So, yeah, I’m just excited to be here.”
Bears in bronze
The Bears will unveil statues of Hall of Famers Walter Payton and George S. Halas outside of Soldier Field on Sept. 3.
The 12-foot, 3,000-pound bronze statues honoring the great running back and the franchise founder and coach will be made public two days before Chicago hosts Green Bay to kick off the NFL’s 100th season.
Jack Dolbin Jr., a wide receiver who was on the Broncos’ first Super Bowl team in 1977, died Thursday at age 70. Dolbin, who became a chiropractor, educator and lecturer after football, died at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania.