Antigonish, Nova Scotia might be thousands of kilometers away from Parksville but Justin Holland feels right at home on the football field as a defensive back for the St. FX X–Men.
Holland, who just turned 20, is heading in to his third year at St. FX. After redshirting his first year there, Holland cracked the starting lineup thanks to hard work and dedication in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom.
That doesn’t come as a surprise to Jeremy Conn, who coached Holland for three years at Ballenas Secondary.
“Justin wasn’t always the fastest or biggest guy on the field but he was one of the smartest and best students of the game I’ve ever coached,” said the BSS Whalers head coach.
“Everything he’s getting is because he’s earned it from doing things the right way. I hope that the current players take a look at Justin as the example of what it takes to make it at the next level, from the on–field aspect and all the hard work he puts in there and in the class room.”
Holland is the second player to head to St. FX from the Whalers, after Cameron McInnes who graduated from Ballenas in 2009. McInnes coached Holland and saw something he had to let his alma mater know about.
“He’s just such a talented kid, you could really see it through the hard work he put in when he was at Ballenas,” McInnes said.
“Justin was asking about different programs and when I told him about St. FX, I made sure to let them know he was looking because getting a player like that on your team helps everyone get better.”
Holland is heading back to Antigonish in August for training camp.
“It’s been great so far. Being able to jump into the starting lineup after spending my first season redshirting was huge,” Holland said. “It’s quite the difference between high school and university level football but I took it all in with each game and worked hard to improve every time out there.”
Holland credits that hard work and effort to the encouragement of his two former coaches, Conn and Sean Hines, who helped shape him into the player he is today.
“They were a huge inspiration for me, for sure,” Holland said. “Coach Conn and Coach Hines were always there to help push you that extra little bit, to get that extra rep up or to finish off that extra sprint. They have such a great mind for the game of football and to be able to learn from two of the best minds in the game was an amazing experience for myself and it’s one that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”