Gavin Holmes’ return for Baylor has some Bears ‘at loss for words’

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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When Gavin Holmes weaved through the defense past would-be tacklers and broke free for the end zone on a punt return in the season opener, his Baylor teammates couldn’t contain their excitement.

More than the 72-yard touchdown return, this celebration was about the sixth-year player who scored it. Holmes missed all of the Bears’ Big 12 championship season last year because of a broken right foot, and that was after being limited to one game and missing their other conference title game during a two-season span when he twice tore the ACL in his left knee.

“He scored, and I was like, `Yes!’ I was at a loss for words because I knew how much it meant to him, I know how much it meant to the team and I knew how much it meant to his parents,” fifth-year Baylor cornerback Mark Milton said this week. “It was a blessing. A lot of people would have given up, but he didn’t.”

Not after five surgeries on his left knee, and all of the rehab that came with those. Not after the broken foot with ligament issues in the spring following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when he had 33 catches while playing in all nine games.

“I’ve always said I wanted to play until I physically can’t anymore, because I love this game. It’s all I’ve been doing my whole life,” Holmes said. “I’ve learned so much about myself in this process. And I know that I can still follow my dreams, chase my dreams and do what I want to do. So that really pushed me to keep going.”

In the first quarter of ninth-ranked Baylor’s season-opening 69-10 win over FCS team Albany, Holmes fielded a punt, escaped the grasp of an initial defender and then eluded several others. The final sprint was along the same sideline as the Baylor bench.

“So cool,” coach Dave Aranda said, aptly describing that entire sequence.

“I would hope that my son and my daughters kind of have the heart that he has, and just the awareness and the compassion that he has,” Aranda said. “So you root hard for guys like that. And for him to have an opportunity, man, that’s so cool. It could not happen to a better dude.”

Holmes, whose whole family was at the game, said the love and embrace he got from his teammates and coaches after the score was a feeling that he will never forget.

As for what Aranda said about him, Holmes said it was cool to hear.

“Just my journey, my testimony and all that … I want to be an influence to people, who especially are going through things like that I have been through,” Holmes said. “To hear coach Aranda say that about me, especially in reference to his own children, that’s amazing. I’m really appreciative and thankful that God has put me in this position to influence people like that.”

After being part of former coach Matt Rhule‘s first signing class in February 2017, Holmes started four of the nine games he played in later that fall as a true freshman before his first torn ACL late that season. He has played in only 11 games since, including those nine in 2020.

Holmes already has his undergraduate degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies. But he wasn’t ready to be done playing for the Bears, who are at No. 21 BYU.

“I just want to contribute to the team in the best way that I can,” he said. “I’m surrounded by great guys and selfishly, it was fun being a part of that Big 12 championship last year, but I want to win one where I’m on the field.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK
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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.