“Y’all, I’m about to commit,” Caleb Holmes texted the group chat as he sat inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex last weekend.
“Nah, you ain’t being serious,” a current Creekside teammate texted him back.
“I mean… not yet,” Holmes admitted. “But, like, I’m really feeling it.”
Holmes — a 6-foot-3, 300-pound four-star interior offensive lineman from Creekside High in Fairburn, Georgia — took his official visit to Pittsburgh over the weekend, and it was better than anything he could’ve imagined. And he came into the weekend with very high expectations.
He arrived on Thursday, and that first night was incredible. But, as he pointed out as we spoke on the phone, it’s always glitz and glamor on the first night. What about when you wake up early the next morning and actually get to business?
Holmes toured the facilities Friday morning, sat in with Dave Borbely and went over some film and his potential fit in the system and hung out some with former Creekside teammates BJ Williams and Rashad Battle. But it was the Pitt Life Skills program that truly caught his attention.
As Holmes was sitting with Borbely and a few assistant coaches, he spoke a bit with Penny Semaia — a former Pitt football player and the Career and Life Skills Coordinator for student-athletes.
“He pat me on the back and started giving me tips about life,” Holmes told PSN. “Like, the conversation just felt so natural. I’m feeling like, ‘Does this man know me? Or is he really that genuine person?’ That’s a genuine person.”
And Semaia went up to the podium, in front of all of Pitt’s official visitors, their families and basically the entire Pitt coaching staff, and he said exactly what he said to Holmes. “And I was like, ‘Wow,’ Holmes said. “That’s genuine, this whole Life Skills program. That gives an extra layer of life to the football players I had never seen before at any program.” It’s a big reason why he felt that interior pull to commit.
“When you combine the wholesomeness of the program, you walk around and see trophies, they’re a winning program and even the atmosphere of the city,” Holmes said. “I did not expect Pittsburgh to be such a beautiful city. I don’t know if it was just sunny outside or what, but everything just looked pretty and organized and clean and everything was just great.”
So, before Holmes flew back to Georgia Saturday, he told the Pitt coaching staff he was sold. He was committing. And it really wasn’t that hard of a decision.
“Just the whole environment of the school,” Holmes said. “And you take that and compare it to the other schools I’ve been to, you know I’ve been all around the country and there’s no other place like it. There’s no other place that I’ve seen that has the environment that Pittsburgh does. Not to sound cliche or anything, but I really didn’t have a reason not to commit.
“I got brothers up there, a winning program, they’ve sent offensive linemen to the league, top rushing program in the ACC last season. Top-tier education, you know, academics are on point. The whole life skills program. It’s just a complete program. I could go on and on about everything that I had learned this weekend.”
Holmes entered the weekend with high expectations, especially as he’s heard more and more from Williams and built a bond with Borbely, but he had never been to Pittsburgh before Thursday. It was sunny and 80 degrees on Thursday. It was a stretch of perfect weather, but it wasn’t just the beauty of Pittsburgh that wowed him.
“I had an idea of the school, but it’s kinda like Pittsburgh by itself, the actual city, the actual environment, that’s something that I really didn’t know much about,” Holmes said. “I knew it was gonna be a brotherhood. They’re up there taking care of BJ. He’s a hard worker. They respect him. Beforehand he had told me that the coaches are real, like, the coach that you meet on your official visit, he’s the same coach that he’ll be when you get recruited.”
There were a lot of positive thoughts as he was flying up Thursday. But even those sky-high expectations couldn’t prepare him for the nearly perfect three days in Pittsburgh. There were smiles the entire time he was there. Everyone was smiling, too.
“Not only just the coaches but the players, too,” Holmes said. “There wasn’t a single player, recruit, commit, college player on the roster that I saw that had a negative attitude, felt outta place, felt like something negative going on. I really didn’t expect it to be as flawless as it was. That’s the best I have when it comes to naming the best part of the visit, the most flawless I’ve ever seen in my life.”
That flawless experience led Holmes to become the newest Pitt Panther, and it’s that exact title — a Pitt Panther — that Holmes and his mom prayed about. As the Holmes family returned home Saturday, Holmes had a long talk about what it means to be a Pitt Panther. And it means an awful lot.
“I feel like the reason that I committed is because it really has felt like home,” Holmes said. “So, my mindset from here on out is now I’m not only working for myself, I’m not working for the next level, I’m not working for my coaches, but I’m working for my next home.”
Holmes already had sky-high expectations for his senior season at Creekside, him and his teammates alike, but it’s higher now. He knows where home is now, and especially where he plans to be in less than a year now, so the plan is to lock in, win a state championship at Creekside and graduate early.
“And then it’ll be home,” Holmes said. “Then it’ll be that next level. I know how BJ works, BJ knows how I work. I’ve seen it, I’ve asked BJ about it. I’ve asked Rashad about it, I asked some of the players about it while I was up there and that’s just the next step. I just gotta do everything in my power to make sure I get there.”
It may take a couple of seasons, but there’s a scenario where Holmes and Williams are able to replicate their days together at Creekside and lead Pitt’s offensive line together.
And for Holmes, Pitt’s newest commit, it’s a dream come true just to be able to look forward to that day.