Chess players are athletes. Well, the ones who can run 4.4 40s.
Fourth-round draft choice Darnay Holmes isn’t your average football player. The cornerback graduated from UCLA in less than three years and plays chess to train his mind. He picked it up when Chip Kelly, known as an outside-the-box head coach, brought in U.S. Chess Coach Seth Makowsky to work with the Bruins.
Originally intended for the quarterbacks, chess fever quickly spread throughout the entire team. For Holmes, it became much more than a hobby.
“I saw several quarterbacks playing chess and I’m the type of player that wants to get insight on everything that’s going on,” Holmes recalled today shortly after being selected with the 110th overall pick. “I walked up to the chess master and asked him do you mind helping me out with chess. The reason I play chess is I want to have efficient thoughts. I want to make sure I am making forceful moves and I want to make sure everybody responds to things that I do. Everything I’m doing, I’m not a piece, I’m a player. I’m going to make sure the team is working accordingly and we’re all on one accord. Chess is a great thing for me to get my mind off of football but also get my mind in the state of being efficient in everything I do.”
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It’s no wonder why Holmes caught the attention of Giants coach Joe Judge, who is a dissertation short of his PhD and hired Princeton and Yale grads to run his offense and defense.
“When you go to UCLA, you’re around a lot of different things, you have access to different pools of people,” Holmes said. “So, Chip Kelly, a great father figure of mine I should say, he makes sure he brings people within the school who are going to aid and are going to be able to value the mindset to reach that different frequency.”
Always thinking a few moves ahead, Holmes accelerated his studies so that he could graduate early and pursue his dream of playing professional football.
“The school curriculum allowed me to implement a strict routine, a routine that allowed me not to sway away into different distractions,” he said. “So, by me having this vivid vision, my energy was aligning to it right away. That’s definitely something that I implemented right when I got to UCLA. It was, I’m going to graduate in three years and then from there I’m going to figure out what I want to do.”
He added: “I had to make that choice. If I hadn’t made that choice, I would probably still be an undergraduate. So, I made that choice right away that I had to get my degree and break that barrier within my family being the first person in my family to get that degree at a prestigious college. (It) allowed them to know that we have so much greatness within ourselves, let’s go chase that and manifest that.”
Time is of the essence for student-athletes, and Holmes dealt with the demands by taking some online classes.
He learned the importance of self-motivation, which will prove useful at this point in world history. The coronavirus pandemic has forced NFL teams to hold virtual offseason programs, where players will try to learn the playbook and stay in shape away from team facilities.
“The key to learning that way is understanding that you can’t lollygag,” Holmes said. “You can’t put things to the side because at the end of the day it’s on your own time. In this life we’re living, you do things on your own time, but at the end of the day if you have a strict routine, you can never be swayed off to different distractions or different things that will hinder you from accomplishing the main goal, which is being the great contributor to the team.”