FOXBOROUGH - Facing a throng of reporters after his first Patriots minicamp, Jesse Holley clutched his new silver helmet. Strapped to the face mask were his white receiver’s gloves. Written in Sharpie across the wrist straps were two words.
“Oh man. I always laugh, because I say God has a sense of humor,’’ Holley said. “And he gets a laugh out of me all the time.’’
A free agent following a short stint with Dallas, Holley arrived in Cancun for vacation last week when his phone buzzed. Return to the states, his agent said. The Patriots want to work you out.
Holley’s whirlwind week is just the latest chapter in his unpredictable career. Undrafted out of North Carolina, he was cut by the Bengals in 2007 and the CFL’s BC Lions in 2008.
Almost two years out of football, Holley was working security from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and maintained part-time day jobs with UPS and T-Mobile.
“It ran the gamut of jobs,’’ Holley said. “Just trying to keep food on my table.’’
Then he sent in an application for Michael Irvin’s reality show on Spike TV, “4th and Long.’’ One of 300,000 applicants, Holley eventually made it through an audition and a combine to television, beating out five receivers and six defensive backs to earn him an invitation to Cowboys’ training camp in 2008. While on the show, he took some cues from former Cowboy Bill Bates, an undrafted safety who carved out a reputation as one of the game’s hardest workers.
“I like to take a little bit of Bill Bates in myself,’’ Holley said. “Work so hard that they try to find a way to cut you, but they just can’t.
“This organization is a great organization, a winning organization. I’m just blessed to truly be a part of it. I want to succeed and hopefully I can be here for a very long time.’’
Reality-star status might always follow Holley - his Twitter handle is @Mr4thAndLong - but these days he gets recognized more for his Week 2 performance last season, when a 77-yard overtime reception from Tony Romo set up the winning field goal against San Francisco.
“That was the solidifying game,’’ Holley said. “Not only in football, but in life. If you’ve ever been working so hard at something and you finally see results, that’s the feeling that was.’’
The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound Holley, who has seven career receptions for 169 yards, is a long shot to make the Patriots roster with such a crowded receivers corps, though he was, in his words, “a special teams demon’’ with the Cowboys, appearing in 28 games over two seasons.
“He’s a big guy, he’s got some quickness and some movement, and he’s got some good hands,’’ receiver Donte’ Stallworth said. “Hopefully he’ll be able to pick up on this offense pretty easily.’’
But undrafted unknowns with thin résumés (see: Woodhead, Danny) have come out of the woodwork to star in New England before.
“My notebook will probably be filled by the end of tonight,’’ Holley said. “I’m closing my mouth, opening my ears, and absorbing as much as I can.
“I’m around guys who have been around in this league 9, 10, 11, 12 years. I have to get in their side pocket, in their ear, and ask questions.’’
Learning coach Bill Belichick’s complex offensive system is another story.
“Have you ever been to Japan? Do you speak Japanese? That’s it right there,’’ Holley said, smiling. “I just bought a Rosetta Stone.’’
As Tuesday’s practice wrapped up, Holley said he had not yet met Belichick. When asked what he would say when they eventually spoke, Holley’s response was concise.