Some Valley residents might not recall the name Milfred Holmes, but throw out the name he went by, Bubby, and heads will nod approvingly as they recall a great Monessen High School athlete (Class of 1973).
A dazzling running back, in junior high he scored nine times over a two-game span in which he ran only 17 times. For that, Holmes was featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd.
Holmes took Mon Valley All-Conference football honors three years in a row, a rarity. He capped off a glamorous high school career by making the Big 33 squad (the same year as Tony Dorsett). Unfortunately, an injury prevented Holmes from playing in the game.
Holmes, who also ran track and played basketball, received offers from about 150 colleges, including Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Pitt.
Holmes shattered high school records with 3,746 yards rushing and by scoring 304 points. His 92 points as a sophomore, along with his 136 and 76 points in the next two seasons, left him just four points of becoming the only three-time Mon Valley Conference scoring champion. Only Bill DeShields, of Laurel Highlands, topped Holmes one year, 96-92.
Holmes’ best rushing output was 1,453 yards as a junior, and his single-game high, coming in a 34-20 win, was a stunning 307 yards on 27 runs on a day he scored four touchdowns. Another time he scored four TDs and two other scores were erased.
Carl Crawley, a Greyhound star himself who went on to officiate college football, including 14 major bowl games, said, “I remember him running for three or four touchdowns in a game I was refereeing.”
He might have had another one, but Crawley spotted an infraction.
“I’m running passed the coach on the sidelines and he said, ‘Why’d you throw the flag?’ I said because there was a clip. And he still said, ‘I know, but why’d you throw the flag?’”
Crawley had to be wondering, “Well, what else could I do when I see a clip?”
As a senior, Monessen played Jeannette in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals. After battling to a 14-14 tie, Jeannette was declared the champ due to a tiebreaker (based on the teams’ total offensive yards). Monessen might have won thanks to a Holmes 63-yard touchdown romp, before his vertebrae injury required him to be taken to a hospital, but that score was nullified by a penalty. Due to this game, the tiebreaker rule was scrapped — too late for Monessen, which felt it would have won with an uninjured Holmes.
Holmes then played for the University of Minnesota in 1973, 1975 and 1976, joining several renown men, including quarterback Tony Dungy who fired 15 touchdown strikes as a junior. In 1978, Dungy started just two games as a defensive back for the Steelers, yet picked off six passes. Later, he coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title. Dungy lived next door to Holmes in college and they watched NFL games together. They still stay in touch.
“Tony was very studious,” Holmes said. “He watched film all the time. You come on campus and try to adapt academically and socially. Tony would isolate himself and watch film for four years. As a result he ended up being a head coach.”
Another Minnesota teammate was Rick Upchurch, who become a fine receiver and punt return artist for the Denver Broncos. In 1979, he snagged 64 passes for 937 yards, and one season he returned four punts for scores, including a 92-yarder, to lead the NFL.
In 1975, after Upchurch departed, Holmes became the next Golden Gopher to lead the team in rushing, rambling for 573 yards, including two 100-yard games. He also topped Minnesota in yards from scrimmage (622).
While 1975 was just his second season in the college ranks, he impressed people with his crisp running. After paying his dues as a freshman (with just 14 carries), he averaged a career high 4.3 yards per carry.
That year Minnesota was 3-0 outside the conference, but trapped in the rugged Big Ten, they could muster a record of only 6-5. The big boys such as Ohio State (11-1), which ranked No. 4 in the final AP poll, and Michigan State (No. 8) hogged all the Big Ten glory.
Regrettably, Holmes’ career pretty much ended after 1975. He played in all 11 of Minnesota’s games in 1976, but injuries limited him to just 26 carries, and his 4.3 average from 1975 plunged to 2.6.
In 2014, the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame reflected on Holmes’ career and inducted him into the group.
After leaving college, Holmes, now a psychotherapist, took up permanent residency in Minnesota, living outside of Minneapolis. He has a son Jason and a daughter Shontay Butler. Besides his son and daughter, Holmes is most proud of both his education — two Master’s Degrees (in Criminal Justice and Psychology) — and playing Big Ten football.
(Some information for this story from the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame program, 2014.)