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Jefferson native, NFL player earns hometown praise

By Rick Kretzschmar Westward East Texas
July 17, 2010 at 4 p.m.

Dallas Cowboys Montrae Holland autographs photos during Montrae Holland Day Saturday at the Jefferson Community Center.

Cowboys' Holland honored with day, presented award from

Jefferson

JEFFERSON - Many people praised Montrae Holland when the offensive guard for the Dallas Cowboys returned to his hometown on Saturday. More people could be praising his name in the next year, if a shot at the Super Bowl comes through.

Yet even if the NFL's ultimate prize doesn't come Holland's way, even more people from Jefferson could be praising Holland's name years from now, because of what he did for his hometown earlier this month.

Holland came home for a ceremony at the Jefferson Community Center to be honored as the city of Jefferson declared Saturday to be Montrae Holland Day. Holland is a 1998 Jefferson High School graduate, where he was a football standout before a successful collegiate career at Florida State. He is entering his eighth season in the NFL, his third with the Cowboys.

However, Holland is coming off a 2009 season in which playing time was not to be at the Cowboys' new home, Cowboys Stadium. Holland was declared inactive before all 18 Cowboy games which counted, including two playoff games. Holland did participate in Cowboy practices and was paid his full salary, but he said that ease his greatest professional desire: playing time.

"For me, it's not about the money," Holland said. "It was frustrating every week getting ready, but not being able to play."

Holland said the Cowboys were better than what they showed when they were eliminated by the Minnesota Vikings 34-3 last season in a divisional playoff. Holland said he is anxious to prove that this year.

Holland got that opportunity as head coach Wade Phillips lived up to his word. Holland said Phillips didn't want to change anything on the roster. Holland signed a two-year contract in May, extending his time with the Cowboys through the 2011 season.

Perhaps even more important for Holland was spending part of his offseason in isolation. Holland trained alone for 2 1⁄2 months in Arizona.

"I think it directs focus when you work out alone," Holland said. "I worked on weights, flexibility, technique, diet. It was a little bit of everything."

Holland appears to have lost weight from his 6-2, 326-pound frame of last season. His first test of his offseason work will be this Saturday, when the Cowboys open training camp in San Antonio.

Launching Holland to the 2010 season was Saturday's honor, the third such Montrae Holland Day held in Jefferson, but the first when he was a Cowboy. Holland played for New Orleans from 2003 to 2006 then spent the 2007 season with Denver.

Holland was a candidate for the largest referee in the world as he officiated a touch football game before an early-afternoon thunderstorm directed activities inside the center.

In a ceremony, Holland was named an honorary lifetime citizen of Jefferson and received an outstanding citizen award. Speakers in the ceremony included Jefferson head football coach Scott Hale and Linden-Kildare coach Jerry Bennett, who coached Holland at Jefferson.

"I can't think of a better role model and a better Christian athlete than what Montrae is," Bennett said.

Holland also signed numerous autographs and posed for pictures, primarily for grade-school children. Perhaps the most thrilled in the group was Ja-Kaila Ventimiglia, who is eight years old and will be a third-grader at Jefferson Elementary School this fall. After she received a signature and a hug from Holland, she leaped in the air in excitement.

"I was very excited. I'm a huge Cowboy fan," Ventimiglia said. "It's cool I got to see Montrae in person. The hug means more to me than his signature."

Holland could have a hand in making kids such as Ventimiglia smile in the future. According to Ricky Harrington, director of the Jefferson Outreach Program which works with Jefferson children, Holland made a financial donation to the community center earlier this month. This will keep the center open on a daily basis, the first time this has happened in approximately 25 years, although the center has also used for other intermittent events since then. Holland received a thank-you card signed by all 54 kids currently involved in the outreach program.

"What Montrae has done is monumental," Harrington said. "It's a wish we've had for a long time. Montrae stepped up to the plate."

Holland's next challenge will be this fall, made even more difficult because the Cowboys are Super Bowl contenders, not to mention Super Bowl XLV will be played at Cowboys Stadium. Holland said he receives constant reminders of how the Cowboys can be the first team to play the Super Bowl on their home field, especially from Phillips, Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

He got another reminder from another coach.

"This year we need to go to the Super Bowl," said Bennett, with a smile. "Tell (Cowboy quarterback Tony) Romo I said, 'Get it going.'"

That was a rare request in a day of thanks Holland received from his hometown. Holland responded by saying part of him will always be in Jefferson.

"I will always be a Jefferson Bulldog," Holland said. "No matter what."

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