Toledo cornerback Ka'dar Hollman's Journey From Walk-on to Starter

Published: Nov. 5, 2018 at 7:11 PM EST
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It's 4 a.m. in a small town east of Philadelphia. Ka'dar Hollman wakes up, puts on a polo and slips out the door, ready to start his first day at a new delivery job. He's scheduled to drive out to Washington, D.C. It's a long drive but Hollman is riding shotgun so it shouldn't be too bad. His only coworker for the day is the driver. The driver doesn't talk much, but that's okay, as long as he helps with the load. The two arrive at their first stop. The driver shifts into park and Hollman opens his door to slide out the 18-foot tractor trailer. The driver doesn't move and says bluntly, "I'm just the driver, you unload the truck." The trailer is full with cargo packed so tightly that even with the back door fully opened Hollman can't see the front of the hold.

By the end of the day Hollman is exhausted. By Wednesday, he's boiling. By Friday, he quits. A salary that might average out to $25,000 a year just isn't worth it.

Ka'dar Hollman remembers those days.

Call it what you will. "Manual labor. "Blue collar work." Not that there's anything wrong with it, but Hollman always knew this was exactly the kind of work he did NOT want to do for a living. College -- and college football -- would provide a way forward. But it hasn't been an easy journey.

Before he became a starting cornerback at the University of Toledo, Hollman was just another good athlete looking for any opportunity that would get him closer to his dream of playing in the NFL-and there was no plan B if it didn't work.

"In my head, football was always going to work out so I could get to college," said Hollman , a native of Burlington, N.J. "I grew up with a basketball in my hand but when I was about six or seven I saw a lot of my friends playing football so I decided to get into it because of them. At the end of my sophomore year of high school I realized that I liked basketball a lot, but I also realized by then that it wasn't going to take me anywhere. I really liked football a lot too so I decided to really take football seriously."

Hollman's shift in focus led to him putting maximum effort into his craft during his junior year of high school at Burlington Township High School. It was time for him to show up and show out.

"I knew going into my junior year that I was going to be the starter, and that really gave me a lot of motivation," Hollman said. "That really made me grind harder knowing that this is the season that my team's going to be dependent on me."

Hollman put in the work and helped his team go 6-5 that year, but he wasn't getting any attention from college programs. He decided to attend Milford Academy, a prep school, for his senior year in 2013 where he accumulated 15 solo tackles, eight breakups and three interceptions. Following that season, he took his future into his own hands.

"I emailed every D-I school in the country my highlight tape," Hollman said. "My highlight tape was good but-and I don't know why-Toledo was the only school in the country that ever emailed me back. So that's all I did, email my highlight tape, tell them my height, my 40 time, my weight and stuff like that. I guess they were impressed."

Head coach Jason Candle said he noticed Hollman's athletic ability and the way he carried himself.

"With anybody who sends a videotape to you, their physical ability gets them a chance to be recruited," Candle said. "You dig deeper into that and you try to find the character of the young man. You try to find out what makes him tick and if he has a genuine love for football. When all of those boxes are checked, you say yes to somebody."

In almost every case where a player walks onto an NCAA football program, they aren't expected to do much more than fill a roster spot. For every Andy Boyd-who was recently inducted into UT's Hall of Fame-there are 100 players whose names are soon forgotten.

Hollman earned his spot on the roster but he was redshirted his first season. He still had a lot of work to do before he saw any Saturday action.

"That first year was hard," Hollman said. "Being redshirted is hard because you don't really get why it happened until the end of the season."

Hollman didn't take the year off lying down, though. The season out of the lineup allowed him to soak in the culture of the Toledo football program while giving him time to analyze what other players were doing to succeed.

"Toward the middle of the year I really grasped everything that was going on," Hollman said. "I watched the older players and I took notes on what they were doing. I was never detail-oriented before that so I would mess up drills and not know why. I wanted to really minimize my mistakes and really know what I was doing so, when my chance did come, I would be successful."

Hollman credits his unwavering dedication and diligence in part to the long hours he spent at the numerous odd jobs that filled his time prior to his arrival at Toledo. That experience helped him appreciate the opportunities that he had to better his life.

"Working at jobs like that, everybody I was working with didn't graduate high school, were convicted felons, or had kids at 14- and 15-years old," Hollman said. "A lot of those people didn't have the opportunities that I had, so I knew at that point that I really had an opportunity that I couldn't miss out on. Stuff like that really motivated me to go where I wanted to be in my life."

That motivation has materialized into an outstanding college football career. A starter since his sophomore year, Hollman has recorded 101 tackles, two interceptions, and 23 breakups through three-plus years of action. Hollman was awarded the team's Binder Memorial Award as the team's top walk-on in 2016, and is also UT's 2018 nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy, awarded annually to the best player in the nation who began his career as a walk-on.

"He's had to earn everything. There hasn't been anything given to him here," said Candle. "He's a guy who's battled through some position-coach changes and never batted an eye. He's kept a straight face, kept his head down, kept working and kept pressing on. He's a guy who has big dreams and big goals."

"I came in a walk-on and there wasn't any lights or fame," Hollman said. "A walk-on can't really say much. You just have to put your head down and work each and every day."

Hollman and the Rockets have three more games on the schedule, including a critical game at Northern Illinois this Wednesday. The Rockets are 5-4 and their postseason future is still uncertain. What is certain is how Hollman wants to finish out his collegiate football career. He's going to keep the same sharp focus he has held since first stepping onto UT's campus.

"I just try to go hard every practice, every day, and at every game because I'm not guaranteed anything else after that," Hollman said. "When it comes to these last games, I'm just going to try and enjoy every moment with my team and just go hard for them as I know they'll do for me."

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