Vonnie Holliday sacked opposing quarterbacks 8 times in only 12 games last season.
In the 1998 NFL draft the Green Bay Packers traded up 10 spots, to 19th, for the opportunity to select a 6'5, 300-pound, University of North Carolina product named Vonnie Holliday. Following the completion of his rookie year, we now know why.
"The thing just broke right for us," said Packers General Manager Ron Wolf. "I think he has a chance to be a perennial Pro Bowl player as a defensive end."
Holliday punished opposing quarterbacks last season amassing a total of eight sacks, including one on Steve Young, the usually elusive 49ers field general, in the Wild Card game. His sack total during the regular season tied Tim Harris' team rookie record set in 1986 and also equaled Miami's Lorenzo Bromell for the most by an NFL rookie during 1998. In addition, Holliday also led the Packers defensive line with 52 tackles during last year's campaign.
Growing up in Camden S.C., Holliday never really thought about playing professional sports for a living. He was too busy having fun with neighborhood friends and cousins who lived nearby.
"All of my uncles and cousins were very much into athletics when we were younger, so it was natural for me to join in every game that they were playing. When high school arrived, I realized how much I really enjoyed having sports as a part of my life."
A self-proclaimed tennis and novel junkie, the 24 year-old did not even consider the NFL a possibility until his junior year as a Tar Heel. As North Carolina's football program progressively improved each year, he began to think that a career in professional football was not as far fetched as he once believed.
"My junior year in college I saw the attention of North Carolina football move to a level similar to that of our basketball program," Holliday says. "That was exciting and it got my energy for football to a whole new level."
"Then, when I was drafted and arrived at the airport in Green Bay I saw almost everyone wearing Packers shirts and almost every store in town had a Packers flag or sign in the window. It was unbelievable."
Many rookies enter the league thinking they are fully prepared for the rigors of an NFL career. Often rookies are not willing to learn from the veterans they are competing with for a place on the depth chart. Last season, Holliday actively sought out the advice of his more experienced counter-parts, including famed defensive end Reggie White, and the battle proven Santana Dotson, in order to learn more about his new career. He would try to learn and watch film with other members of the defensive line, and the one thing they all say about number 90 is that he rarely makes the same mistake twice.
"Last year when I'd be on the field, I would think that I was in some kind of fog, where all these famous football players belonged," Holliday says. "There were so many elite athletes on the same field as me, I really felt privileged."
Last season, at the point of attack against the run, Holliday had outstanding success controlling blockers with his hands and then pushing off to make the tackle when the ball carrier arrived.
According to Green Bay defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, "This season everyone is hoping for a repeat performance."
"The thing that's been most impressive to me is his work ethic and his desire to improve and gather knowledge every day," Trgovac said. "I think it really means a lot to Vonnie to be a great player in this game."
Wolf's desire to move up in last year's draft to acquire Vonnie Holliday looks as if it was a decision that not only benefited a budding college star, but the future of the Green Bay Packers as well.