Abraham Lincoln’s Holley heading to Florida after Penn State coaching change

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Abraham Lincoln defensive tackle Thomas Holley had to do a fast pivot when the college coach who recruited him bolted shortly after he committed to the school.

Holley’s world took a surreal turn in late December, less than two weeks after he gave his verbal commitment to Penn State, when Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien left the school to lead the Houston Texans. The coach’s exit, along with defensive line coach Larry Johnson heading to Ohio State, left Holley searching for a new school.

What made it even more jarring was that O’Brien had told Holley he wasn’t leaving.

“It was tough even when I was hearing about it and thinking that O’Brien was staying and he’s gone,” Holley said.

Added Lincoln coach Shawn O’Connor: “He looked a little stressed out when O’Brien left.”

So he called up University of Florida football coach Will Muschamp — whom he had turned down just a few weeks earlier — to take him up on his offer. Muschamp could hardly believe his good fortune.

“It was actually funny because I was calling coach Muschamp and I was getting ready to tell him I was going to commit,” Holley said. “He was like, ‘Thomas don’t pull my chain. Are you for real?’ ”

One of the nation’s top prospects, Holley, already had a close bond with Muschamp and Florida. The Gators were a close second to Penn State originally, but was further from home.

He said he has a chance to battle for a starting job right away on a Florida team that graduates a number of players on defense. Holley will also gets to compete in the Southeast Conference, considered the best in college football.

Holley did speak with new Nittany Lions coach James Franklin before opting against Penn, but he didn’t want to go through the whole recruiting process again and try to build new relationships with National Signing Day just a few weeks away.

“It is just too difficult and too much,” Holley said of getting to know a new staff. “I said just stick to what you know.”

The 6-foot-4, 305-pound 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. He has played just 21 football games in his career after shifting his focus from basketball two years ago.

Holley competed along with some of the nation’s top players in the Under Armour All-American game in St. Petersburg, Florida on Jan. 2. He helped lead his team to a win and got to provide the Gatorade bath for head coach Steve Mariucci. Holley felt the experience would only help him be ready for what lies ahead in his career.

“It’s just preparing me for college because that’s what you are going to be doing everyday, especially playing in the SEC at a school like Florida,” he said.

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
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