New Florida A&M coach Earl Holmes refused to let his players step on a football field without going through a history lesson.
During meetings that spanned three days, he taught the current class of Rattlers about the program’s rich tradition.
He talked about College Football Hall of Fame FAMU coach Jake Gaither, who posted a 204-36-4 during his tenure leading the Rattlers.
He talked about College Football Hall of Fame FAMU running back Willie Galimore, a star also known as “The Wisp” because of his remarkable speed and sharp lateral moves.
And he talked about former FAMU offensive lineman Henry Lawrence, who was a first round NFL Draft pick.
“Some eyebrows lit up, eyes got big and some palms got sweaty,” Holmes recalled. “I told them, at one point, we were the best school in the country. . . . Now they know they're not just playing to win some games. They're playing to restore the tradition of FAMU football.”
Holmes, a Tallahassee native who played at FAMU before spending 10 seasons in the NFL, took over as the Rattlers' new head football coach in January. He has spent the past five months reminding players, fans and anyone else who will listen FAMU has an elite football history.
He stopped in Orlando Tuesday during a four-city tour, promising fans his teams will play tough and work hard. Holmes is eager to see the school move on from the FAMU band hazing woes that grabbed national headlines and a stretch of losses on the football field.
“It means everything to me, being able to come back to my alma mater to restore pride in this program,” Holmes said shortly before addressing FAMU fans in Orlando. “That's our mantra this season, restoring pride. I was here when we won championships. I want to get us back to that level.”
While he is driven to see the Rattlers race up the Football Championship Subdivision rankings, Holmes notes it will take time to rebuild the program.
“Rome wasn't built in a day and this transformation won't happen overnight, Holmes said. “You have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run, but looking back at our 15 practices during the spring, I thought the kids really understood the tempo and format of what we expect. They're learning what it means to be a Rattler.”
Holmes isn't starting from scratch.
Quarterback Damien Fleming returns to lead the FAMU offense. He ranked No. 23 nationally among FCS passers with 142.2 yards per contest last season. Holmes said he was impressed by the effort he saw from his defense that ranked No. 20 in the FCS last season. Linebacker William Small is among the players who turned in strong spring workouts, snagging a pair of interceptions in the spring game.
Holmes said he hopes FAMU fans in the Orlando area cheer on the team when it opens the 2013 season against Mississippi Valley State Sept. 1 in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge and closes the regular season against rival Bethune-Cookman Nov. 23 in the Florida Classic. Both contests will be played at the Citrus Bowl.
“I've been a Rattler for a long, long time, and I know this program has the potential to win a lot of games,” he said. “I know I can do it. It's going to take some time, but I know we can put the Rattlers back on top.”