Holmes outpacing Hayne flight path to NFL

In a Florida classroom, Valentine Holmes is learning how to run again. Learning how to talk a new language.

Differentiating his fullbacks from his running backs, all in the hope of an NFL club knocking on his door when he struts his stuff at a US Combine in March.

It's four years since Jarryd Hayne found himself in a similar position on other side of the world trying to turn dream into reality after walking away from rugby league.

But Holmes and the NFL pathway coaches at Florida's IMG Academy believe the former Cronulla fullback will be far more equipped to make the transition than Hayne was when he landed a spot on the San Francisco 49ers roster in 2015.

"I'm not saying he didn't take a good pathway, but the pathway I'm on at the moment is very helpful," Holmes told NRL.com from Florida on Friday.

"We're learning a lot. We're actually doing classes and film work and video. A lot of teachers are helping us and I feel I'm gaining more experience this way rather than the way Jarryd Hayne did. He did really well, played a few games … but I feel like I've made it a little bit easier for me coming through this way."

One of the coaches that has been working closely with Holmes is NFL Pathways assistant Tyler Henderson, who will work closely with the athletes over a 12-week program to ensure they are ready to impress when they front the scouts in March.

 
 
 
 
 
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This is only the beginning. Heading over to America tomorrow to officially start my journey to the @nfl . Thank you everyone for your support. - 📹: @chadtownsend10

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Unlike Hayne, who did most of his training on his own, Holmes is part of the NFL International Player Pathway Program alongside many foreign athletes eyeing a prize on the big stage.

"I think Jarryd Hayne didn't have the tools and assets Val has," Henderson said.

"Jarryd did a really good job with what he was given and worked hard and was able to play a few games, which is a big credit to him. But our goal is to put Val in the best situations possible and teach him everything he needs to know to make sure he doesn't drown in training camp and represent himself really well.

"I saw his highlight tapes before he came last week and thought he had a chance to be a good player, but he's definitely better than I thought he would be. He's really natural. A lot of things come easy to him.

"One of his biggest strengths is that he can be in a tight area and he can somehow find his way out of it. It's something you don't see in a lot of guys. It's something that's rare and is special for him. He can play returner or running back or receiver. It's an attractive quality that he has that teams want."

While some take years to transition, Holmes has his eyes on landing a spot with an NFL franchise in 2019.

"That's why I'm over here," Holmes said.

"Train hard, learn all the plays and give it a crack this year to get on to a team. That's my goal."

If it doesn't work out, will Holmes be back in the NRL in 2020?

"If not, I'll stick it out and see how it goes," he said.

"But my focus is the next three months first and let it all sort out after that."

Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen was vocal following Holmes's sudden departure from the club, taking aim at the Queensland and Australian representative for letting his team down.

Gallen also called for the NRL to ban Holmes from returning to the sport.

"Obviously coming from your captain, you wouldn't really think that he would say something like that," Holmes said.

"But I'm an easygoing person, I don't really read into that s--- too much. But I will definitely say I don't agree with it. I spoke to him after it. He gave me a call after it. He painted me out to be the bad guy. It's all good. We're all mates after it.

"I left because the opportunity arose with a spot left for me here with a pathway for me to take. I had age on my side. I felt like I was in the right form at the time coming off a good year, I thought. I thought the timing was perfect to come over and give it a crack."

For Holmes, there's no bout of home sickness to worry about.

He knows what it's like to walk away from family after leaving Townsville as a teenager.

"I had some lonely nights when I moved to Sydney but because I've done it before it's made me a bit more wiser this time around."

Sharks skipper Paul Gallen.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Not that he has a lot of time to feel lonely.

Since starting at the IMG Academy two weeks ago, Holmes spends his days studying and training, not allowing himself any time away from the books and videos until his head hits the pillow each night.

"That's basically been my whole trip," Holmes said.

"It's like I'm starting all over again. I'm learning how to step again. It's very technical over here. It's very specific training but back home it's more free flowing and do things at your own pace.

"That whole first week I was here, I didn't really know what was happening. In the classroom it gets pretty tough. Just remembering just what formations you have to play and remembering the strategics. That's the hardest part I've been struggling with, not really the physical side of things.

 
 
 
 
 
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Another chapter begins.

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"It was all foreign to me. Even after three months, everyone is saying if you go to a team I'll have to start all over again. We're just learning the basic formation and if you get to a team you'll need to learn it all again."

Holmes has been in contact with both Adam Gotsis, the Melbourne-born defensive end playing with the Denver Broncos, as well as former South Sydney player turned Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata.

His best chance of landing a spot in an NFL team is on special teams as a punt or kick returner, but he's also felt comfortable as a slot receiver during his workouts in Florida.

"I think for my position back home it's a bit more similar," he said.

"It's different with running pads and a helmet though. I'm trying to get used to having that trying to catch a ball. It's a bit smaller. It's a bit more slipperier, I reckon. The gloves help. We've been under a few high balls and it's been pretty good."

Henderson believes Holmes has the talent to play as a running back or receiver, and was adamant the ability to adapt to multiple positions would aid his chance of being picked up by an NFL franchise.

"The more he can do, the more chance you have of making a team. You've got to have the entire package. He's going to give it a shot, but there's a long way to go, The good thing is he has a lot of time to get there.

"He needs to take it day by day and understand he has time to get there and can't put pressure on himself to be ready right now. In March all 32 teams will watch him perform and do combine tests, whether it be a 40 [yard dash] or a vertical jump or a shuttle run. They'll have a chance to talk to him if they want to talk to him and from there they can be signed from any of the 32 teams."