Holcomb never doubted ability to become starter

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2003

BEREA -- The reporters covering the Cleveland Browns were told that the Browns' starting quarterback was ready and waiting to be interviewed.

Until a few days ago when coach Butch Davis picked him over Tim Couch as the starter, Kelly Holcomb was always waiting.

Perseverance paid off. The spotlight didn't find him. He stole it.

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Playing at Middle Tennessee State is no longer a factor. Going undrafted doesn't matter anymore. Being waived four times by Tampa Bay then stuck behind Peyton Manning in Indianapolis are not relevant now.

Holcomb is an NFL starter.

''I don't know if I expected to get this job, but I expected a job one day,'' he said Wednesday. ''I always believed deep down in my heart that I could be a starting quarterback in the NFL.''

On Sunday, Davis made it official, choosing Holcomb over Couch, the Browns' starter the past four years and the club's No. 1 overall draft pick in 1999.

Holcomb, 30, said his life hasn't changed much since the announcement that ended seven years of watching from the sideline and months of debate in Cleveland.

Surrounded by cameras, Holcomb certainly wasn't the same QB he was just a few days ago. This was a different huddle, one he's going to have to get used to but where he always wanted to be.

''I expected to be here someday,'' he said. ''I didn't know when it was going to be. But it feels like this is where I should be. I don't know why, and it wasn't an overwhelming thing, but it's exciting.''

Holcomb isn't the first journeyman quarterback to get his big chance after years toiling in the shadows as an NFL backup. Trent Green, Rich Gannon and Tommy Maddox have great comeback stories of their own.

But Holcomb's situation is somewhat unique. He unseated Couch, who led the Browns to eight wins and the playoffs last year only to get hurt and watch as Holcomb passed for 429 yards in an AFC playoff loss to Pittsburgh.

This was supposed to be Couch's breakout season. Instead, it will begin as Holcomb's.

In more ways than one: A week before being promoted by the Browns, Holcomb's wife, Lorie, gave birth to their third child and first boy, Jameson.

''I've got a new little boy, and getting this job. It's an exciting time right now. I don't now if it's elation or what it is.''

Holcomb said Davis' decision may have changed the depth chart, but it hasn't affected his relationship with Couch. Perhaps that's because Holcomb can relate to the pain Couch is feeling.

Holcomb spent five seasons in Indianapolis wondering if his day would ever come. In four of them, he never once stepped on the field in a regular-season games.

But that didn't mean he didn't have to battle for his job. The Colts brought in other quarterbacks, not to challenge Manning but compete with Holcomb.

''I thought I had proven myself, and they kept coming,'' he said. ''It kind of weighs on your mind. You start thinking, 'They're trying to get rid of me, and there's nothing I can do to change their mind.' It starts wearing on you.''

Holcomb never stopped believing even when others had their doubts. He waited for his chance, and when it came, he made the most of it.

Hard work made Holcomb a starter, and hard work is going to keep him one.

''I think a lot of people have the misconception that when you start, you've made it. You've done it,'' he said. ''But that's not what I believe, that's not the way I think. I have to come in every day and work hard and get better and that's what I plan on doing.

''It's one of those things. You have to keep fighting.''