CAMDEN — Salisbury was always Wesley College’s fiercest rival in football.
So, of course, James Holmes and his Wolverine teammates wanted more than anything to beat the Sea Gulls when they played for the final time this past spring.
That’s why Holmes was caught off guard when some of Salisbury’s players started recruiting him during the game.
“They’re like, ‘Yo, come over here,’” Holmes recalled with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘I’m trying to beat you and now you’re telling me to come to your school?’”
But that’s just the way it was with Wesley shutting down its athletic program at the end of June.
A Caesar Rodney High grad, Holmes has found a new home after transferring to NCAA Division II Indiana University, Pa. A junior linebacker, he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
IUP didn’t recruit Holmes coming out of high school. But they were more interested in a 21-year-old player with 24 games of college experience who’s put on about 40 pounds of muscle since he left CR.
Holmes is excited about the opportunity at IUP. The way things ended at Wesley, though, was devastating for Holmes and his teammates.
“It was very depressing,” said Holmes. “We thought about it but we never really believed it (the rumor) because Wesley is such a well-known football program. When it came, we were just like, ‘Wow.’ It was a shock.
“I definitely wanted to play, for sure. I emailed a lot of schools. I just fell in love with IUP.”
CR coach Dan Candeloro isn’t surprised that Holmes was a success with the Wolverines. He started all 12 games as a sophomore at Wesley and was the team’s leading tackler in its three-game spring season.
Holmes was an all-conference selection for the NJAC Southern Division after the spring.
With the Riders, Holmes was the team’s defensive MVP and a third-team All-Stater as a senior. He also played lacrosse.
“James has always been a great man, a team player,” said Candeloro. “Going to Wesley was great for him. We called him ‘the heat-seeking missile.’ He just loves the game of football, studies it and does a great job.
“He was one of Coach (Brian) Burns’ favorite linebackers ever,” Candeloro said, referring to CR’s former long-time defensive coordinator.
Not only is he bigger and stronger, but Holmes would like to think he’s a better football player now than when he first got to Wesley.
“I just know more of the game — technique and what to do in certain situations,” he said.
At IUP, Holmes will be joining a program that has made the NCAA Division II playoffs 19 times. The Crimson Hawks have been in the playoffs in four of the last five seasons through 2019.
“D-3 has talent but at higher levels there’s more talent because of scholarships,” said Holmes, who will start out as a walk-on at IUP. “So I’m definitely going to have to up my game. I feel like I’m at the bottom a little bit. I’ve got to work 10 times harder.
“I can’t wait to go — new place, a new atmosphere. I get to experience new things.”
On the other hand, there will always be part of Holmes that thinks of himself as a Wesley football player. It’s where he always assumed he’d be for his entire college career.
“We’re trying to look at it as a blessing,” Holmes said about he and his former teammates. “A lot of people are going to get to play. We’re trying to keep each other pushing.
“For sure, we’re brothers for life."
Former Wesley defensive coordinator Art Smith has been hired at Delaware State as its linebacker coach. He joins other former Wolverine coaches Jeff Braxton and Steve Azzanesi on the Hornets’ staff. ... E.J. Lee, who ran for over 1,000 yards over two seasons with Wesley, is expected to finish his career at Division II Frostburg State. ... Delaware State is planning to have an online archive for Wesley athletics.