Following Virginia Tech’s spring game April 20, sophomore tailback Michael Holmes joined three teammates on the interview-room podium. Little did anyone realize it would be his final appearance as a Hokies football player.
Outside a Blacksburg bar later that evening, well after midnight, Holmes and his girlfriend were involved in a fight that included his ex-girlfriend. Holmes was arrested, and the most serious charge was malicious wounding, a felony, which per university policy mandated his indefinite suspension from the team.
Holmes became eligible for reinstatement last month when a judge convicted him only of misdemeanor assault and battery, sentenced him to probation and ordered him to pay $13,403 in restitution to his victim — Antoine Barnes, according to testimony, sustained a broken cheek, black eye and cracked ribs.
But Virginia Tech’s Student Conduct System eliminated that athletic-department option.
Holmes, who started five games last season, has been “permanently separated from the university,” athletic director Jim Weaver said Tuesday, ending Holmes' Tech career.
“Permanently separated” is a phrase straight out of the 2012-13 Hokie Handbook section regarding student conduct and was the first clue Weaver was treading carefully.
Weaver confirmed the Holmes decision was above the athletic department. I asked why student judiciary intervened.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what the situation is. This is a difficult one to communicate. … I can only tell you what has occurred.”
Did Tech's Student Conduct System dismiss Holmes solely for the assault? In connection with another transgression? Only because of a separate violation?
We may never know. As the handbook states: “Student Conduct case records are private and will not be released without a student's written consent or by order of a court of law.”
Recent precedent indicated Weaver and coach Frank Beamer might reinstate Holmes. They welcomed kicker Cody Journell back last year after his 2011 felony breaking and entering charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Journell responded with a solid season, making clutch field goals in victories over Georgia Tech, Boston College, Virginia and Rutgers, the latter in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“You certainly don’t get yourself put in those situations,” Beamer said four days after Holmes’ arrest. “I think we need to let it play out. I think there’s definitely two sides to the story on this one.”
After his conviction, Holmes conceded his mistakes.
“I think I defended myself,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Mike Barber outside the courthouse, “but I did it too much. I have to suffer the consequences. I have to pay for my actions.”
Given that Journell's crime involved a premeditated plan to retrieve stolen marijuana, his offense seemed worse than Holmes’ spontaneous fight. But there are no indications the Student Conduct System was involved in Journell’s case — the system grants accused students or organizations a hearing before an assigned faculty administrator or a committee of students.
Appeals are heard, which likely explains the lag time between last month’s ruling and Weaver’s announcement Tuesday.
Holmes, fellow sophomore J.C. Coleman and redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds were the primary candidates to start at tailback in 2013. As a redshirt freshman last year, Holmes rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns on 70 carries.
A 60-yard outing against Cincinnati was Holmes’ best, but in the Hokies’ eight subsequent games, hampered by a thigh injury, he gained only 69 yards combined.
At Harrisonburg High in 2010, Holmes rushed for 2,877 yards and scored 41 touchdowns to earn Group AA state player of the year honors. He has three seasons of college eligibility remaining and figures to resurface quickly at another program if he desires.
Upgrading an anemic rushing attack is a must if Tech is to better last season's 7-6 record, the program's worst in 20 years. The Hokies ran for only 18 touchdowns in 2012, their fewest in nine years, and quarterback Logan Thomas was the team's leading rusher with 524 yards. Moreover, Coleman’s 492 yards were the fewest for a Tech No. 1 tailback since Terry Smoot’s 356 in 1967.
Holmes led all rushers in Tech’s spring game with a modest 24 yards on seven carries, and while his departure limits the Hokies’ depth, it is far from ruinous. But his exit is, and likely will remain, very, very curious.
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