FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Valentine Holmes was as massive a star in Australia as he could have ever imagined.
The standout winger and fullback for the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks of the National Rugby League was recognized wherever he went, with die-hard fans donning his team’s jersey and wide-eyed youngsters wanting to play just like him.
And then, Holmes stunningly left it all behind.
He headed to the United States for a chance to play American football in the NFL, a decision that angered some of those same fans who once cheered him. But Holmes needed to tackle his dream.
“I just felt like I wanted to test myself as a person and an athlete,” the 24-year-old Holmes said. “I wasn’t really thinking about what I was giving up, I guess. It was just that I wanted to chase more.”
Holmes is in training camp with the New York Jets competing for a roster spot as a running back, wide receiver and return specialist.
He’s in America — 10,000 miles from home — as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program. This summer, all four AFC East teams — the Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots — can carry an international player in camp. It’s a long shot, but players can earn a place on the 53-man active roster. If they don’t, they are eligible for a practice squad exemption.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Holmes first worked out for NFL scouts in Los Angeles in 2016, and spent three months early this year learning the game at IMG Academy in Florida.
“I’d say it’s been kind of like a roller-coaster,” Holmes said. “Obviously, I’ve had some ups and downs. Learning the playbook and getting stuff wrong is not always good, just making mistakes on the field or even in the classroom. And then, also making good plays and making good stops is also a good thing, as well.
“So, yeah, I’m just excited to be here.”
Holmes has shown flashes after a back ailment limited him early in camp. He had a 50-yard touchdown catch in a drill Monday. Holmes might get a chance to make more highlights tonight in the Jets’ preseason opener against the New York Giants.
“It’ll be cool just to be on the sideline and interact with the guys,” he said, “and watch with them rather than just watch on the TV, you know?”
Kaepernick “still ready”
Colin Kaepernick said he’s “still ready” to return to the NFL, even though he is set to enter his third season out of the league.
In a video posted Wednesday on social media, the 31-year-old Kaepernick is shown working out in a gym. He says in the video: “5 a.m. 5 days a week. For 3 years. Still Ready.”
Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers, helped start a wave of protests about social and racial injustice in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem at games. He has since become an advocate for social and racial justice.
The NFL in February settled a collusion grievance Kaepernick and cornerback Eric Reid filed against the league. Reid, who played 13 games last season for the Panthers, signed a three-year contract with Carolina in February.
Bears to unveil statues
The Bears will unveil statues of Hall of Famers Walter Payton and George S. Halas on Sept. 3 outside of Soldier Field in Chicago.
The 12-foot, 3,000-pound bronze statues honoring the great running back and the franchise founder and coach will be made public two days before Chicago hosts Green Bay to kick off the NFL’s 100th season.
Payton entered the Hall of Fame in 1993. He held 16 NFL records when he retired.
Halas, who led the team for 40 years, entered the hall in its first class in 1963.
Around training camp
The Detroit Lions agreed to a contract extension with offensive lineman Joe Dahl through 2021. ... The Pro Bowl will return to Orlando for the fourth straight year and be held Sunday, Jan. 26, one week before the Super Bowl. ... Jack Dolbin Jr., a wide receiver who was on the Denver Broncos’ first Super Bowl team in 1977, died at age 70 Thursday at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to his obituary posted on legacy.com. ... The Bengals and NFL Foundation are donating $75,000 to help those directly affected by a shooting rampage in Dayton, Ohio that left 10 people dead. ... The Dallas Cowboys are donating $50,000 to a fund for victims of the mass shooting that killed 22 people and left about two dozen others injured in El Paso, Texas.