WELEETKA — Wearing an upturned straw hat and carrying a paunch that belies his once-unmatched agility, the director of the Spirit of Oklahoma Football Camp instructs kids on a broiling summer day.
Here in the sticks of Eastern Oklahoma, on a field trying hard not to surrender its green, you'd be hard-pressed to pick out Barry Switzer's greatest Sooner quarterback.
Heck, even the tight spiral, thrown for the campers, throws you off the scent.
But that's him, all right.
He's come to this Okfuskee County hamlet to teach a little football and spread a little inspiration and maybe teach these boys of all ages a thing or two about life.
All the while learning himself.
Driving over to Weleetka the other day, Holieway grew a little wistful with his old pal, Rickey Dixon, the great defensive back from those golden OU teams of the 1980s.
“Boy,” Holieway told Dixon, “if I could do it all over …”
Wouldn't we all like do-overs in our life? But Holieway could use a rewind more than most.
Once he was the toast of the crown. The true freshman who quarterbacked Switzer's Sooners to the 1985 national title. The wishbone wizard who was not the fastest nor the biggest nor the strongest optioneer of them all. Merely the best.
Holieway had style. Style and charisma and Los Angeles street smarts. He came to Oklahoma and loved it — still hasn't left, 27 years later — and still can charm Sooner fans of any era, with little of the guile he used to bewilder Longhorns and Cornhuskers futilely giving chase.
Quarterback the Sooners to a national title, and you're a made man. But somewhere along life's path, Holieway became unmade.
Twelve arrests over the years, mostly for infractions involving driving and/or marijuana.
Damaging allegations from his old quarterback partner, Charles Thompson, who testified in federal court that Holieway feared getting ensnared in the same investigation that put Thompson in prison for cocaine trafficking.
Drifting from job to job.
Most OU quarterbacks go on to politics (Jack Mildren, J.C. Watts) or television (Steve Davis, Dean Blevins) or coaching (Cale Gundy, Josh Heupel).
But for 20 years, Holieway was a Lost Boy.
“I was free, loose and young,” Holieway says, sitting in the cafeteria at Weleetka High School. “Back in '85, you think life lasts forever. Everything around you's going well. Reality then sets in.”
Holieway still draws the favor of OU fans, at autograph sessions or ballgames. Twenty-seven years after that championship season, Holieway still hears the cheers. But he also hears the whispers.
“He really realizes the position he had at the University of Oklahoma,” Dixon said. “If he had carried himself in a different manner, he could be in a lot better situation.”
Dixon was the best kind of friend to Holieway. An honest friend. A couple of years ago, seeing Holieway's listless life, Dixon shot straight with his old quarterback.
“I felt someone needed to reach out to him,” Dixon said. “I made that a priority.
“When you're a child, you do childish things. When you get older, you have to throw away childish things.”
Holieway says his main goal is this: “Make my name back respectable.”
Holieway's wife, Brandie, the mother of his two youngest children, has told him it'll take time. “But the last four years, Jamelle has tried to turn over a new leaf,” she said.
They've both had their missteps. Holieway has been arrested with his wife a couple of times over the years.
“I know news is news; that's just the way it is,” Holieway said. “The way it's portrayed in the newspapers, you would have thought I murdered somebody. Like I committed a heinous crime.”
But Holieway knows he's disappointed people. And his biggest hurt is disrespecting his mother, Charlie Evans, back in Carson, Calif., making her see his name on television for all the wrong reasons.
“My mom was my heart,” Holieway said.
But Charlie Evans would be pleased at the sight of the Spirit of Oklahoma Football Camp, with Jamelle Holieway & Friends.
For one thing, the support Holieway has. He's still got good friends.
Dixon, who played five years in the NFL, is up from the Dallas suburbs. Leroy Holt, Holieway's boyhood pal and Banning High School teammate, flew in from Los Angeles.
Also here are DeMond Parker, the Sooner tailback whiz from the '90s; Keith Sparks, the walk-on who earned an OU scholarship in the '90s; LeShon Johnson, who played five years of NFL tailback; and DeAngelo Mitchell, who played at Kansas State.
Holt, who went on to be a four-year starting fullback at Southern Cal, has known Holieway since they were Pop Warner teammates 33 years ago.
“A few bumps and bruises,” Holt says of his old pal. “You learn from your mistakes. I've seen the change in him since having the kids.”
Holieway has older children, but he's been tamed by fatherhood only since Jaylen, 12, and particularly Jasmin, 2, came along.
The Holieways live in McAlester, but Jaylen attends school in Quinton, 30 miles away, where Holieway's mother-in-law has taught school for 34 years. Holieway has a deal with his son; keep making straight A's, and he can stay in Quinton, even though Holieway would like his athletic son to attend a bigger school.
But it is Jasmin who seems to have matured Holieway.
“When she got here, it was like … all right Jamelle, it's time to grow up,” Holieway said he told himself. “Time to take on all your responsibilities. Be a better husband, be a better person, be a better Christian.”
The barbecue has arrived for the football camp's coaches and volunteers. Sandi Golden of the sponsoring Muscogee Creek Nation says the food must first be blessed.
“Let me do it,” Holieway says as he springs to his feet.
“Father in Heaven, we come to you today and thank you for a great day,” he prays. “Thank you for getting us here safely … just help us grow closer to you, to come where we can get where we need to be, which is back closer to you.”
Holieway is wearing a gold cross. Says he and his family attend the Missionary Baptist Church in McAlester. Says he's even taking steps to become a deacon.
Holieway has lived a hard life. Lots of repentance needed. But the quality of mercy is not strained.
“God has been good to me,” Holieway said. “Put the right people around me, make my core even better. No reason to have any more negatives come out of Jamelle. Life is too short not to live right.”
This is his second year conducting a football camp at Weleetka. Golden got him connected with the Creeks a year ago, and he seems to thrive working with kids from Okmulgee and Wetumka, Okemah and Henryetta. Places far from Los Angeles or even Norman.
“The opportunity the Creeks have given me, I want to take advantage of it,” Holieway said. “Let it snowball into more positive things.
“Everybody can't go to OU's camp, or OSU's camp, or Tulsa's camp.”
Holieway, who graduated from OU in four years with a political science degree, says he recently passed certification to become a wastewater regulator and has a good job.
“To know that people will still give you opportunities to turn your life around, that's all I wanted,” he said.
Holieway didn't grow up to be a coach or TV anchor or politician. It's possible that quarterbacking the Sooners has been as much a curse as a blessing in his life.
But he doesn't talk that way. He's wearing OU socks on the hardscrabble Weleetka field. When other camp instructors announce their alma mater, Holieway chimes in, “The best school is OU.”
Wearing fur coats, sporting a diamond stud in his ear, living the fast life, it didn't follow the script of other OU quarterbacks.
“Maybe I didn't fit the mold,” Holieway said. “I might have been too flamboyant for them. And it didn't help, my situation on the news.”
But Holieway still lauds Switzer — “been there for me through good and bad” — and still marvels at the loyalty of former teammate Don Smitherman, who went on to become a well-respected attorney and who has represented Holieway through all his travails.
“Jamelle has matured a lot in the last year or two,” Dixon said. “He realizes the mistakes he's made.
“He's doing real well. We don't all get there as quick as everyone does, but what matters is that you get there.”
I don't know if Holieway is there yet. But I'm hoping he's on his way. Looks like maybe he is.
“Don't go down those dark alleys,” he tells the Weleetka campers while encouraging them in proper behavior.
Jamelle Holieway knows dark alleys. But maybe he's coming into the light.
As he recognizes Sandi Golden for the help provided by the Muscogee Creek Nation, he gives her a hug, with a tear in his eye.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Born: June 25, 1967
Hometown: Carson, Calif.
High school: Banning, Wilmington, Calif.
Top five Sooner football moments:
1. Quarterbacked OU to the 1985 national title with a 25-10 Orange Bowl victory over Penn State; he remains the only true freshman QB in college football history to produce a national championship.
2. Quarterbacked OU's stunning comeback at Nebraska in 1986; the Sooners scored 10 points in the final 82 seconds to win 20-17.
3. In the sleet of the 1985 Ice Bowl, rushed for 51 yards and completed four of five passes for 54 yards to lead OU to a 13-0 Bedlam victory and keep alive its national title hopes. OSU quarterback Ronnie Williams threw for 32 yards on 24 attempts.
4. Against No. 2-ranked Nebraska in 1985, rushed for 110 yards and threw a 38-yard pass to Keith Jackson in a 27-7 victory.
5. Rushed for 170 yards on 25 carries in a 28-0 rout of North Carolina in the second week of the 1987 season.
* October 2011: Held in the Muskogee County jail with no bail, for failure to appear and failure to pay on previous misdemeanor marijuana charges.
* July 2009: Arrested with his wife in McAlester on shoplifting complaints.
* June 2008: Jailed in Eufaula because of outstanding traffic warrants, dating back to September 2006 in Haskell County for speeding and driving with a suspended license.
* July 2007: Arrested in Eufaula on a possession of marijuana complaint.
* February 2003: Arrested in Oklahoma City on a complaint of speeding, possession of a fictitious driver's license and driving under suspension after former felony convictions.
* February 2002: Arrested in Oklahoma City on a complaint of driving under suspension and revocation, after a traffic crash.
* December 2001: Arrested in Oklahoma City on complaints of possession of marijuana, giving false information and several traffic violations.
* November 1999: Arrested in Oklahoma City for failing to appear on 1992 driving offense in Cleveland County.
* July 1999: Arrested for helping a female companion, Brandie Simpson, who eventually became his wife, escape custody after her arrest on a public-intoxication complaint.
* March 1999: Arrested on complaints of driving under the influence of drugs, possession of marijuana and three traffic violations after a low-speed chase in Warr Acres.
* April 1992: Arrested twice in a nine-hour span, for driving under suspension.