Laying on the edge of the wrestling mat in obvious pain after landing awkwardly on his left ankle during a match against North Central last season, Jalen Holliday thought his wrestling days at Camden High School were over.
Holliday, a senior for first-year Bulldogs’ head coach Daniel Sisk’s squad, was helped to his feet and taken out of the gym and into the care of CHS trainer Vincent Albano in what was later diagnosed in being a high ankle sprain. Holliday’s 170-pound pairing with Kalab Haven was stopped by injury default.
Holliday, who at the time of the injury was the top-ranked AAA 170-pounder in the state, rebounded from the ailment as well as he could to battle his way back onto the mat. He qualified for the AAA Upper State championship and even though well below 100 percent, advanced to the state championship by finishing third in the Upper State tourney before coming home with a fourth from the state championship.
One week later, Holliday wrestled for the 4A/3A North All-Star team and won his final high school pairing with a match-clinching pin --- his second in as many matches at the event --- over his second 5A opponent.
On sheer guts alone, Holliday deserved a look and an offer from a college. He ended up getting what he deserved and desired and made it all official by signing a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and wrestling pursuits at Allen University.
After the signing ceremony held inside the CHS library, Holliday admitted that immediately after the injury, he thought his days in a Bulldog singlet had ended.
“I thought it was over for me, really,” he said in recalling that match in mid-January evening. “The pain that I felt … it brings flashbacks to me just talking about it. I tried to finish strong. I wasn’t exactly at 100 percent, but I made it. I’m glad it got better.”
“At first, the injury looked pretty bad,” Sisk said of his impression when he saw Holliday hit the deck. “It only took Jalen three weeks to recover. He missed an important portion of the season, but we got him back when it counted. Jalen had high hopes for his senior year.”
The 5-foot-9 Holliday, who was also a linebacker for the Camden football team, said not giving up and not giving in is something which was instilled in him by his father, James Holliday.
“My dad always taught me growing up that when you start something, you have to finish it. There’s no turning back,” he said of his philosophy. “That’s what I did and, looked where it brought me today.”
In spite of the injury which kept him from wrestling for several weeks, Holliday had a banner 2018-19 campaign. He won his weight division at both the Demon Holiday Classic at Lugoff-Elgin in December and did likewise several weeks later at Dreher’s Blue Devil Invitational. He finished his season with a 34-5 record along with the admiration of his head coach.
“What an unbelievable leader,” Sisk said of Holliday who, he said, was his team’s hardest worker after finishing second in AAA at 160 pounds as a junior. “Guys looked up to Jalen. He set the tone in practice. He set the tone in matches, usually with a quick pin. He would fire up our guys and he would fire up the crowd.”
On the occasion of the signing ceremony, after Sisk talked of Holliday’as importance to the program, the senior signee told those in attendance that signing with and attending an historically black college was important to him as he wants to give back to his community.
“It started when I was little, probably when I was about 12,” he said of wanting to attend an Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institution. “I remember my cousin, who went to South Carolina State, and he told me about the black experience and black colleges. It meant a lot to me since then.”
In Allen head coach Robert Hemingway, Holliday found someone he could trust and would watch out for his best interests.
“When I first met the coach,” Holliday said, “it meant a lot to me; the interest he had in me and the way he talked. It felt like he wanted me to be a part of the family there.”
With the last name Holliday, it was all but assumed that Jalen Holliday would follow in the family tradition of playing football for the Bulldogs. And the gridiron came first until he discovered wrestling when in the seventh grade at Camden Middle School. He said after learning the sport, he became a changed young man. He did, however, admit that he had a hard time learning the nuances of wrestling.
“At first, it was football,” he said of his favorite sport growing up. “But as soon as I was introduced to wrestling, it made me a better person … it changed my personality. I had a hard time at wrestling at first; I really did.”
One thing which Sisk said helped make Holliday one of the state’s top wrestlers was that he brought strength, speed and athleticism to the mat. That is a winning hand.
“Jalen’s such a good athlete. He can score from anywhere, but he would rather be on his feet,” Sisk said. “He’s one of the quickest guys in the entire athletic department. He’s a good thrower. He’s unstoppable on bottom. If he can use his quickness to get to his feet and get the advantage, he’ll be fine in college.”
Holliday said Hemingway told him that he plans to use the freshman in the 160 or, 170-pound weight division. Either way, Holliday said, he has the will and desire needed to stay in shape and weigh in at either weight class.
“I think I’m more concerned about my weight now,” he said. “In my junior year, I was on a diet. Ever since I got on that diet, I never missed weight.”
“Weight has never been an issue for Jalen,” Sisk added. “He’s never had to cut weight here.”
Holliday has never been one to back away from a challenge and he said he knows he has one coming in wrestling at the next level in which scoring points come at a premium. Holliday said he is ready to tackle that challenge, head on. One key to his future success could be the ability to score points from his back.
“It’s tough, but I have escaped a lot. I’ve been close to getting pinned but I get up. I make sure to get off my back,” he said of his style and his take on life, in general.
Sisk said Jalen Holliday will be the type of wrestler, teammate and leader who is exactly what every team needs.
“We’re going to miss his leadership,” Sisk said.
“The thing about wrestling in college is that you have to stay in shape. I’ve had Jalen in the weight room for four years. He was one of the strongest guys on our football team. He was the strongest guy, by far, on the wrestling team. As long as his keeps that same work ethic at Allen, he will be fine.”