MANSFIELD — It wasn’t as difficult a decision as one may expect.
An MIAA Division 1 wrestling champion and the Hockomock League’s Most Outstanding Wrestler as a sophomore at Mansfield High, current senior Vinnie Holmes opted away from the mat his junior year. He wanted to concentrate on improving for the Hornet football program instead.
“Honestly, it really wasn’t (a tough decision) because I did what my goal was in high school during my sophomore year,” Holmes said. “So the decision for me to step away from wrestling was a pretty easy one because I love football. I wanted to focus on it and try to be the best I can.”
It has certainly paid off. The two-way standout, who is Mansfield’s all-time tackles leader in program history and the 2019 Hockomock League MVP, has propelled the South Sectional champion Hornets (10-1) to Gillette Stadium for the MIAA Division 2 Super Bowl on Friday night (7:30 p.m.) against North Sectional champion Lincoln-Sudbury.
The dedication shown has helped the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Holmes on an individual level as well. First and foremost is the development of his speed; it’s been a key factor in Holmes recording his most productive offensive season, as he has rushed for 746 yards on a team-high 99 carries in 11 games. He is second on the team in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, trailing only Cincere Gill in both categories.
“I think what’s kind of developed over time is his running,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said of Holmes, who spent four or five days during the winter and spring at Edge Performance Systems before starting the Mansfield High summer workouts.
“He was kind of a hardnosed runner as a sophomore, and junior year he was a little more of that, but showed a little bit more speed. This year, he’s really running like a halfback. He’s down to like a 4.6 (40-yard dash),” Redding said. “We got him at the tailback position now quite a bit, and we’re getting him the ball in ways we would give it to a halfback. So that part of his game has definitely evolved.”
Holmes has been featured in the screen game and other passing situations as well. He has eight receptions for 65 yards and one receiving touchdown. His six total touchdowns are third on the team behind only Gill and running back/ receiver Michael DeBolt. It’s helped Holmes discover a newfound appreciation for the offense.
“This year I’ve loved offense. I’ve been getting more opportunities to run the ball and I’ve been making the most of them,” said the three-time Hockomock League All-Star.
And while his role has expanded in the offense this year, the truth is Holmes has been a focal point on the defensive side of the ball since he started with the varsity program. Depicted by the statistics (300-plus tackles in his career), the senior linebacker has the ability to make plays others can’t. It was on display in the South Sectional final against Natick, as Holmes shot the A-gap and perfectly read a jet sweep. Instead of a big play for the Natick offense, it went for one of the 14 tackles for a loss Holmes has on the year.
“I think I see the field very well. That’s one of my best traits,” Holmes said. “And my speed too; I’m able to get to where I need to be, when I need to be there, and make plays.”
Holmes has recorded 85 tackles and two sacks on the season. He also has a pair of pass breakups, eight quarterback pressures and one forced fumble.
“He’s a pretty special player,” Redding said. “I’ve never qualified anyone as the best ever, but he’s certainly one of the better linebackers we’ve ever had. Just his instincts, his toughness, his understanding of the game are very rare. His ability to read things and get into the backfield, and he’s such a great tackler. It’s been since Day One of his sophomore year. You kind of knew he was special from the day he stepped on the field. He just had something that was pretty rare, and he has just had an unbelievable career.”
His strong senior season comes with some added motivation. Holmes was sidelined with mononucleosis during the end of his junior season and was unable to play in the Division 2 South Sectional semifinal loss to King Philip, or in the rivalry game against Foxboro at Fenway Park on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Without Holmes, the injury-plagued Hornets lost both games.
“Missing out on last year was upsetting for me, and watching us lose from the sidelines was really tough,” Holmes said. “I think I could’ve made a difference, so it just hurt. So, this year, being able to make it to the Super Bowl has really motivated me. And we just have one game left, so I’m excited.”
Holmes’s excitement is complemented by one additional factor: He’ll be playing at Gillette Stadium with his two younger brothers, Nico and Zander.
“It’s one of my highlights,” he said. “We grow up playing backyard football together, and just being able to be on the same field now, and on Friday at Gillette Stadium, playing for a Super Bowl, I’m just so excited to do it with them.”