Torry and Terrence Holt are best known for their accomplishments on the football field. The brothers from Gibsonville were stars at North Carolina State University before embarking on successful careers in the National Football League. Torry played wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams for 10 of his 11 seasons. Terrence played six seasons as a defensive back, mostly with the Detroit Lions.
But long before they retired from the game—Terrence in 2008 and Torry in 2009—the siblings began orchestrating their second act, turning their childhood challenges into a cause. When Torry was 10 and Terrence was 6, their mother, Ojetta, was diagnosed with lymphoma. To honor her memory, they founded the Holt Brothers Foundation to serve children who have a parent or guardian with cancer. The foundation’s main program, KidsCAN!, provides activities and emotional support.
In the business world, Torry and Terrence have grown Holt Brothers Construction into a thriving management and development company. Their firm has worked on the City of Raleigh Central Communications Center as well as the Innovation Center at Wake Tech’s technology campus at RTP.
The brothers sat down with Midtown magazine recently to talk about their lives after football. And while their days on the field are behind them, their love for the game burns brightly. Torry has been voted a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame the past three years, but has yet to earn a gold jacket. He shares his thoughts on the Hall waiting game, while each of the brothers takes a look back at life in the NFL.
Not only did your mother have cancer, but your family dealt with this over a 10-year period. What were those 10 years like for you?
Torry: We didn’t fully understand what was going on either. The routine was the same. Mom still got up and went to work, Dad still got up and went to work. They wanted it that way. That’s why they didn’t share it with us a lot. They wanted us to act and feel as kids normally do, not to carry the burden of their mom having cancer. We had a very good childhood. We had good Christmases, we had outdoor activities, we played video games. It wasn’t until later on that we actually saw the decline and we really understood what was going on.
Terrence: As a 6-year-old all the way up until I was 14 or 15, I did not know my mom had been diagnosed with cancer, and that it was cancer coming out of remission when she got sick in 1995 and ultimately passed in 1996. It correlates well with why we started the foundation—the protective nature that my mom operated with. It speaks oftentimes to the way African American households operate, where it’s very hush-hush. There’s not a lot of discussion around something that’s severe and painful, how fearful we all are. So we oftentimes ignore it and pray it away. My brother could tell you, and my sister certainly could, that it was something I don’t think we thought about. All we knew was our mom and dad here at home. This is a happy home, and we love our parents and expect that they will be here with us as long as we’re here on this earth.
What specifically do kids need when a parent has cancer?
Torry: It’s everything you think about when you were a kid. You need your parents to talk to, to come to your games, to help you with your homework, to cook. But when a mom or dad or guardian has cancer, some of those things are taken away. That’s where we come in with the hospitals and try to fill those voids. One of the things we’re proud of is our memory-making events. Bowling, football games, basketball games. We hang out. It’s those things that a kid misses out on when a parent or guardian is diagnosed, because a lot of the resources go toward the parent or guardian getting healthy. And they don’t have the energy to go and entertain a kid.
Terrence: Kids need to be kids, and cancer forces kids to grow up. That’s one thing we did experience, even as 24-, 20- and 16-year-olds, when our mom ultimately passed away. The things she had done for us, we had to then do. My dad could only do so much, and he was coping with pain and loss.
I want to ask about Holt Brothers Construction. How did you develop your expertise and grow the business?
Terrence: We had great business mentors. We started off around 2005 and 2006 very interested in real estate. It was more on the residential side. We were lucky to be surrounded by people who knew a little about a lot. In turn, we developed an interest in the commercial side of real estate. Then 2007 happened and the market tanked. Me, on the latter end of my career in 2008, this interest was sparked and we got with these business mentors—folks like [Durham entrepreneur] Farad Ali. Farad was telling us about commercial construction, and not just the opportunities there, but about potentially creating a strong minority-owned firm. It comes from our prior sport, and our ability to put a team together and be coached, that we could put a great company together. October 17, 2011 is when we put everything together and got our general contractor license and began trying to procure work. Now, 11 years later, we’ve been able to be successful with our alma mater, North Carolina State University.
Torry: He’s right; what we learned in the sport we try to bring to the industry of construction, that culture. I played for Hall of Famer [and St. Louis Rams coach] Dick Vermeil, and he always stressed to us, if you can find good people, knowledgeable people who want to put in the work and who believe in your cause, people will extend themselves just as you do. So we try to live by that.
Torry, you have been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame each of the past three years. You are 16th all-time in receiving yards in just 11 seasons, you had the most receiving yards in the decade of the 2000s and you won a Super Bowl with the Rams in 2000. Do you feel like you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
Torry: I certainly feel I belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in due time. I’ve been a finalist three times in a row now. What I’ve learned is to continue to exercise my patience and lean on my faith, and it will happen. I’m in the mix, I’m in the game. I’m considered a pro football hall of famer. It’s a representation of the best who ever played the game. I go all the way back to my childhood, playing in Gibsonville on Homestead Street. I just loved playing the game of football. I would have been a hall of famer in any era. I was blessed with the talent and the ability to do it. So, yeah, it matters.
Now that you’re retired, do touchdown passes or interceptions still roll through your mind?
Terrence: It is so much a part of me. I cannot, even if I tried, bottle it up. During the football season, it resonates more. Come July and August, I get that smell of grass in the early morning, I get that training camp buzz and feel. I get antsy around the house. To get a chance to play against [Hall of Fame quarterback] Brett Favre two times a year in the NFC North playing for the Detroit Lions was both a treat and a nightmare. He chewed you up. We’d always play at Green Bay in December. The weather was quite awful and the fans were very rowdy. But I do remember picking him off.
Torry: I often think about the game. I’m around it so much. I’m part of the NFL Legends Community, and I visit the Rams often for games. When I’m sitting around on the weekends or even when I’m in the office, sometimes a play comes to mind. Occasionally, I have those flashbacks. One thing that often comes to mind is at Carter-Finley [Stadium] the day we beat Florida State. (The Wolfpack defeated the second-ranked Seminoles 24-7 in 1999.) That changed the trajectory of our entire university the day that we beat them. It gave us, it gave [N.C.] State fans, it gave everybody confidence when we beat Florida State. We were no longer being bullied. I just remember that sea of red, I remember the high school kids who were there as recruits. It was an amazing day. And obviously, winning the Super Bowl. Nothing beats that.
Torry and Terrence will host “An Afternoon with the Holt Brothers” on Sunday, November 13, 4–7 p.m. For more information, visit holtbrothersfoundation.org.