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.