After a freshman All-American campaign, safety Jevon Holland wasn’t satisfied with his performance. He used the offseason to refine not only his game but himself as a person, growing both as a leader on the field and as an individual off of it. Now in his sophomore year, Holland is letting his voice be heard.
“[He’s] taking responsibility for himself,” cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. said. “Pushing other people that aren’t doing their job... I know I’m supposed to be the leader as a cornerback, but I like to let the safety control it, and I just help out from their, and he’s stepped up and ran with it.”
In his first year as a Duck, Holland appeared in every game. And while it took him time to build a rapport with his coaches and teammates, he was receiving starting snaps just a few games into the season. After playing receiver earlier in his football career, the young safety soon gained a reputation as a ball-hawk, frequently picking off opposing quarterbacks from his deep safety position — and ending the year with a team-leading five interceptions, one of which came at a critical moment in the Ducks’ 7-6 win in the Redbox Bowl.
Like any great player, Holland used his early success as fuel to propel him to even greater heights.
Entering his second year, and his first in defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ new scheme, Holland was tasked with becoming a more versatile player and one of the voices of a veteran-laden defense. Thus far, he’s done just that.
“I realized this summer that I had to grow up,” Holland said. “I kind of expected it to happen. Me playing as a freshman, I knew that I was going to have to take on a role. I kind of feel like I have a natural ability to lead. The courage, charisma — It wasn’t hard.”
Avalos’ strategy has allowed the safety to play all over the field, both as a roaming safety as well as a nickel corner.
“He’s playing a position that allows him to do the things that he does more successfully,” Graham Jr. said. “Him going to nickel is even better because it doesn’t keep him hostage.”
There’s a lot on Holland’s plate, being as positionally versatile and multi-talented as he is. Holland has played a key role as a punt returner this year too, yet another area where he excels — in addition to being a vocal presence and leader. To balance all these tasks takes a special player with a special mind.
“[Holland’s role] is a critical part of the defense,” Avalos said. “To be a multiple defense, the guys on the edges and in his position, they’ve got to be great physically and mentally, and he’s played really, really well. But it's still a work in progress. There’s things that he’s working to get better every week.”
One of these things is tackling, an area that Holland himself admitted was a sore spot last year in his otherwise sound overall skill set. When you make as many big plays as he does, it can be hard to take criticism — hard to focus on what you’re doing wrong. He not only holds himself to a high standard but expects his teammates and coaches to criticize his faults so he can make adjustments.
“Everyone is going to congratulate you about the good things, but who’s going to coach you for the bad things?” Holland said. “To be honest, tackling, that's like one of my favorite things now. All those tackles I made against Auburn, that was like the biggest part of the game. Interception? That was cool, but I really like the tackles.”
Holland isn’t just vocal on the field, but in other aspects of his life as well. Whether it’s his teammates, classmates or other peers, he believes in educating and bettering the lives of every individual around him. One way in which he does this is through his presence on social media.
Like many of his peers, Holland frequently tweets about topics relating to friends, family, sports, music and much more. Perhaps what his tweets concern most of all, however, is social justice.
“I like to make my voice or opinion heard,” he said. “I’m not necessarily pushing it on people, but you know if you have a conversation with somebody you can hear [inaccuracies] if you’re paying attention closely. If I hear it, I like to correct or educate them.”
There is a fine line between educating and pushing your opinions on others, though, and Holland knows this. But given his stature, he still believes it’s paramount to continue to make his voice heard.
“In my field of sport, I just feel that the bigger a platform I get, the bigger my voice can get,” he said. “Just educating myself and the close ones around me, that will trickle down, and they will educate people around them, so eventually everyone is educated about it, and we can get out of this cloud of hate and bigotry that we are around today.”
Issues such as racism, sexism, bigotry and financial inequality are all examples of issues Holland has either directly or indirectly addressed on social media in the past few weeks. One of the more prevalent issues as of late is the Fair Pay to Play Act, which California — Holland’s home state — recently passed. The act allows student athletes to profit off their own likeness and image starting in 2023. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to this issue, he echoes a similar sentiment of his fellow student athletes.
“Get paid,” he said. “I’m a student athlete, I’m trying to get paid. I just feel like we should make money off what we do. The NCAA is making billions off us.”
He believes other states, specifically Alabama, will soon follow suit in hopes of staying in the hunt when recruiting top-level athletes. Interestingly enough, though, despite recognizing how big of a recruiting pitch it could be, Holland said money wouldn’t have made a difference in his own recruitment.
Holland is a Duck, and happily so. Luckily for Oregon fans, he’s just beginning his legacy in Eugene, and with at least another season and a half as a Duck, he has plenty more plays to make before he will “get paid.”