STRASBURG – It took some time for Da’Neil Holliday to enjoy playing football. But now that he has, Strasburg is hoping his new love for the game will help lead the Rams to success.

The Strasburg senior said that he didn’t start playing football until sixth grade and never really liked it when he was younger and didn’t play in seventh grade. He said his parents made him try it again as an eighth-grader and he stuck it out until his sophomore year when he quit the team halfway through the year because he wasn’t enjoying the sport.

Holliday said sometime over the last two seasons something finally clicked for him and he now loves the sport. He said he especially loves playing on defense, where he plays at linebacker, the most.

“I just love hitting people,” Holliday said. “I love that, especially on defense because of the intensity we bring and the way (Strasburg defensive coordinator) coach (Tripp) Lamb coaches us. He’s a really good coach. He kind of built me to what I am today – like a better player and a better person.”

Holliday has made an impact on Strasburg’s defense this season with 17 tackles. He forced a fumble and recovered it against George Mason in Strasburg’s 35-20 victory on Sept. 6.

Lamb said that one of Holliday’s biggest strengths is his knowledge of the game.

“He understands really well what the other team is trying to do to us,” Lamb said. “He gets everybody lined up in the right spots. And he’s a leader for us as far as schematically what we’re trying to take away from the other team, He does a real good job of understanding what we need to take away from the other team.”

Holliday said he’s worked to improve on understanding defense better and becoming more of a leader on that side of the ball.

Lamb said Holliday is someone the other players can turn to if they have questions on the defensive side of the ball.

“He watches a lot of film,” Lamb said. “He asks a lot of questions and he really just absorbs what we’re trying to tell him. And he absorbs it and he relays the messages from the coaching staff to our team defensively. So he’s meant a lot to us on the defensive side of the ball.”

One of the reasons Holliday said he quit the team his sophomore season was because the coaching staff wanted him to play on both sides of the ball and he didn’t like playing on offense. Last year Holliday, who plays at fullback, suffered an injury in a scrimmage on offense and played a limited role for the Rams on offense during the season. Holliday finished the season with eight carries for 78 yards and one touchdown.

This season Holliday is finally committed to playing on both sides of the ball and he’s enjoying it. Holliday has 21 carries for 195 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He also has three catches for 12 yards and one touchdown.

Holliday said even on offense his favorite part is getting to hit people.

“As soon as I get to the ball, I’m just looking for somebody to hit,” he said. “Against George Mason, this dude was just standing there, and I was like ‘I have to hit him.’ I lowered my shoulder and just ran into him and he fell on the ground and I kept going. ‘I just have to keep pumping my feet.’ That’s what I was thinking.”

Holliday said even though he’s scored three touchdowns this season, he’d still rather make a big play on defense than score points.

“Anyone can score a touchdown, but when you make a big hit or cause a fumble recovery it just brings more energy than it does on offense,” Holliday said. “That’s why I like defense better.”

Lamb said that having Holliday on offense full-time this season should make a real difference for the team.

“He can really do a good job with (the football) when he’s got it,” Lamb said. “If we can get him to carry out his fakes a little bit better when he doesn’t have the ball, I think the offense will really start to pick up.”

Holliday also plays basketball for the Rams and was on the track and field team for the first time last year. He said up until his junior year he had always played lacrosse in the spring for a local club team.

“I just loved the game,” Holliday said of lacrosse. “It was just fun and it was intense.”

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Holliday said he loves to lift weights. He said he generally lifts weights twice a day at Strasburg and takes a weight-lifting class at the school.

Holliday said he’s seen a real difference in himself since he became more dedicated to lifting weights.

“Sophomore year I was big, but you could just tell that I was not the most physical one out there and the strongest,” Holliday said. “And then it kept progressing and it became easier.”

Holliday, who led the Rams last season with 82 tackles, said his goals for the year are to reach 100 tackles and 1,000 rushing yards this season.

The Rams are off to a 2-0 start and host Shenandoah County rival Central on Friday. Holliday said he wants to make the most of his senior season and have a strong showing.

“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet that it’s my last year of high school, but I think it’s going to eventually,” he said. “I just got to go into every game thinking this could be my last game, my last senior game. And I got to go as hard as ever.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com