Vanderbilt’s Will Holden Redefining Student-Athlete

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#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Stan Jones)

Vanderbilt Man, Will Holden, Successful On and Off the Field

#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Stan Jones)
#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Stan Jones)

Saturday night, Will Holden will step onto Dudley Field for his last home game as a Vanderbilt Commodore. He and his football brothers will fight for a sixth win and a chance to become bowl eligible. When Holden committed to Vanderbilt in 2011, he went from Green Cove Springs, FL, a town with a population of 6,908, to a university with an undergraduate enrollment of 6,796. He was one of ten kids to go off to college from a class of 400. “It was not something you did. Everyone stays around town and starts working. They marry their high school sweethearts and start a family.” Explained Holden. But the minute he stepped on campus, he knew he was a Vanderbilt Man.

Best Laid Plans

“I come from a great military family.” explained Holden. His father was in the Navy for 30 years. While Holden’s brother is currently a corpsmen in the Navy, and was most recently on the President’s Medical team. Meanwhile, his mom works in the school system. “Discipline was rigid growing up, which I am thankful for now. Without that I don’t know where I would be today.” Will Holden talked extensively about his family’s military background. “Growing up, I never thought I would play football at this level. I always thought I would just follow in the family footsteps.” And he was well on his way in ROTC in high school.

Holden also achieved the prestigious honor of Eagle Scout. Which requires a degree of commitment and a drive to serve that most high school students cannot comprehend. Notably, the commitment and drive to succeed continues in Holden’s family. His father dropped out of school to join the Navy. Since retiring his dad has gotten his bachelor’s degree, and is currently working on his master’s at Liberty University.

Path to Vandy

ROTC kept Holden busy in high school, but he wanted to be involved in more.So, he decided to give football a try. As fate would have it he was pretty good at it, and colleges called and started offering scholarships. Holden was at a camp in Louisville the summer of 2011.

As he was driving home, Ricky Rahne, Vandy’s then quarterback coach, called to ask him to check out the campus. “I actually driving through Nashville when Coach Rahne called. It was storming. I was tired. I didn’t want to stop, and being on the recruiting carousel I just wanted to get home. So, I put Vanderbilt on the back burner and didn’t think much about it” recalled Holden. Rahne, however, did not forget about Holden, “I took one official visit. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I loved Nashville. Then I arrived on campus and I fell in love with the school. I fell in love with the staff. I fell in love with the program. The whole community was awesome.”  Holden knew he was destined to be a Vanderbilt Man.

Football Brawn

#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)
#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)

Holden red-shirted his freshman year while building strength in the weight room. In his second year, he played on the offensive line as well as the special teams conversion units, and played a role in every game. 2014 brought Derek Mason to campus as a new head coach, as well as a starting role for Holden. He registered 26 pancake blocks and eight domination blocks. Holden started every game in 2015, played more that 870 offensive snaps, and was credited with 33 pancake blocks and 13 domination blocks.

After his dominate play in Vanderbilt’s 38-17 win over Ole Miss, Holden will start Saturday’s game as the SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week. Holden talked about playing in the SEC, the biggest stage in college football. “Playing in front of 93,000 people isn’t something you think about when you are on the field. You have a job to do, so you are dialed in.”  He added, “Lately I have really started to pay attention to the stands and everything in the stadium. I know my time with Vandy football is almost over, and I am running out of games. When I stop to think there are tens of thousands of people there and they are watching me play football, it’s pretty cool and awe-inspiring.”

Football Family

Meanwhile, as the end of his senior season draws near and his time on the field comes to an end, Holden reflects on his football family.

#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)
#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)

“Its crazy how our time on the field is coming to an end. It is amazing where this team has come from and where we are going. We are brothers. I am going to miss playing with them every Saturday. I am just glad I got to be a part of it.”

All in all, Holden and his teammates have been through a lot since they arrived on West End. “We all came in hoping to change Vanderbilt’s image. I think we have done that” said Holden.

With the arrival of Mason came a renewed sense of team. “The best thing about playing for Coach Mason is he really cares about us. That’s the biggest difference I have seen in him. He loves us and looks after us. Mason will do anything for his players. He is 100% committed to us,” Holden continued. “I can tell Mason genuinely loves what he is doing, and he genuinely loves the guys in this program.” Mason has made an impact on Holden and seems to have become his inner voice, “At the weirdest times, I can hear Mason talking in my head…’You gotta know and understand’ and I always wonder why am I thinking about this right now?” chuckled Holden.

#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)
#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton, LWOS)

Campus Life

Will Holden also has the brains to go with his brawn. He was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times, and is also under consideration for national Academic All-America honors after being selected to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District Team. He is a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, where he is involved with the social side of college and active in their community service projects.

Before his starting role on the football field, Holden was involved in the Vanderbilt Programming Board, who sets up alternative events for Vanderbilt students. He also was part of Vandy Fanatics, the sports side of the programming board, who encourage kids to come out to games. As if football alone wasn’t enough to keep him busy.

Furthermore, when he is not on the field or in the classroom, he is spending his free time with his longtime girlfriend, Casey. “We met on move-in day and have been together ever since. She has been with me through everything. Even when I wasn’t playing,” Holden said with a smile.

As One Chapter Ends

Ultimately, Will Holden will graduate in December, with a major in Human and Organizational Development. Presently, Holden is still undecided about his career path as he has hopes to land a spot on an NFL roster. He is a self-proclaimed life long learner. “There are so many opportunities opening for me. I don’t ever want to stop learning. There is an abundant amount of information, I want to grab as much of it as I can.” As Holden graduates, his relentless, tough and intelligent attitude that made him a successful Vanderbilt Man on and off the field will provide him with limitless opportunities.

Main Photo

#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Stan Jones)
#74 Will Holden of the Vanderbilt Commodores (Photo by Stan Jones)

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