Vonnie Holliday has been out of high school football for several seasons, but the five-year NFL veteran and starting defensive end for the Green Bay Packers makes his presence known in unique ways in his native South Carolina.
He's been a starting defensive end since he came to the Packers and registered a career season last year, leading the team in tackles and finishing second in sacks, coming back nicely from an injury-plagued season the previous year.
Billy Ammons, assistant principal at Camden High in South Carolina, was Holliday's high school football coach and isn't surprised that his former athlete established himself as a successful collegiate player at North Carolina and with the Green Bay Packers.
"I admired his character and the type of person he was, especially his devotion to his mother and grandmother," Ammons said. "He was a devoted son and grandson.
"I didn't know if he'd be pro material. But I could tell he'd be a good college player."
As a senior at Camden High School in Camden, S.C., Holliday was a first-team all-state selection and 3-A "Lineman of the Year" and earned city "Player of the Year" honors and was the team's "Most Valuable Player" his senior season.
"I played in a great high school football program," Holliday said. "We had some guys who were quality athletes."
That included Bobby Engram, now with the Seattle Seahawks and formerly at Penn State.
Holliday earned all-conference honors three years defensively while playing as a linebacker, defensive end and tackle. He was all-conference as a freshman at tight end and later moved to center.
"He played as a ninth grader on our state championship team that was undefeated. He played a lot in our state championship game," Ammons said. "He was tall and lanky at that time and didn't really fill out until he went to North Carolina."
Holliday also earned all-conference prep honors in baseball and basketball.
It was playing for a 15-0 state championship team as a freshman that paved the way for a bright football future. "That set the tone for me," Holliday said. "I got the taste of what it was like to be a champion."
Holliday credited Ammons for playing an influential role in his career.
"He made sure I got better every year," Holliday said. "On offense, I played center. It helped me understand my role on defense better. As my body started to mature and my understanding of the game grew, I made a lot of plays at different positions. The coaches really helped me. Wherever they needed you on the line, they put you. I played nose guard at times. That helped get me ready for college football."
During his high school career, Holliday never lost his focus on the importance of academics.
"That was stressed to me at home," he said. "It was important, from my family 's standpoint, to get good grades. They were looking for me to get As and Bs."
Holliday wants high school players considering college and pro careers to realize what it takes to have success.
"It's important for a high school player to develop a solid work ethic at that age," Holliday said. "That's when you build your foundation for college and hopefully, the pros. The guys who will have success work hard and listen to their coaches."
His contributions to Camden and prep football didn't end after Holliday graduated from high school. He's conducted the "Vonnie Holliday Bulldog Football Camp," at Camden High School. With Packers teammate William Henderson, he hosted the second annual football camp this July for junior high and high school players at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis.
"There's a fee for the camp here but Vonnie pays for most of the tuition," Ammons said. "He takes care of anyone who wants to come but can't afford it. When the camp first started, we had 40 to 50 players in it. This past year, we had up to 130.
"He'll bring down some other players with him. The last day of the camp, they do an autograph session and give away helmets, jerseys and other things."
His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. He was named "Male Professional Athlete of the Year" by the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in April 1999. He started the "Vonnie Holliday Foundation" in 2001 to assist children's hospitals in South Carolina with visits and fundraising activities.
Holliday continues to talk to youth groups in the Green Bay area and in his home state of South Carolina. He also helped create a youth summer basketball league in Camden for kids age 10 and older. This past off-season, Holliday filmed a video in support of the United Way in Kershaw County, S.C.
The South Carolina native played on and coached one of two local youth flag football teams for a day in June 2000 as part of the NFL's "Play Football" program. For Thanksgiving 2000, he organized a Thanksgiving meal for needy families in Camden in conjunction with the Chunky/NFL Tackling Hunger program of Campbell's Soup.
"He has a tremendous reputation here," Ammons said. "One year, when the Packers had a bye week, he came to a high school game here. But he hardly had a chance to watch the game. The kids were always asking for his autograph."
And Holliday gladly obliges. After all, he recalls
those years when he looked up to his pro football idols.
"I remember back in high school when we had players coming to school to offer a word of encouragement to me and other players," he said. "As a young person, that really affected my life. I always thought that if I had a chance to do that, I wanted to go back to my hometown. Playing in the NFL, you get a taste of stardom and people look up to you. When I go back to my hometown or even in Green Bay, I see the kids' eyes light up when they look up to you."
And Vonnie Holliday's eyes light up right back at the star-struck youngsters.