by Samantha Thompson Hatem
photographs by Tim Lytvinenko
If there’s one thing football has taught brothers Torry and Terrence Holt, it’s how to be successful off the field.
The former NFL players became local celebrities more than a decade ago at N.C. State. Today they’re using the principles that built their success on the field to create a business and a charitable foundation, both with the potential to impact public life in Raleigh.
In just the few years since they retired from football, the brothers have launched Holt Brothers Construction, which has a handful of high-profile public projects under way. They’ve created a charitable foundation to help kids who have a parent with cancer. They’re also in leadership roles in civic groups like the Chamber of Commerce, chairing fundraising campaigns for other nonprofits, and running their own football camps serving kids from all walks of life. And the brothers are working behind the scenes – in the weight room and at practice – to support their beloved Wolfpack football team. They’ve done it with the determination, hard work and focus they used to bring to game day.
One thing they’re not doing is coasting on their football fame.
“We’re persistent, we’re diligent, and we’re consistent,” says Torry, who is vice president of Holt Brothers Inc., the umbrella company for the construction and development firms, their charitable foundation, and their football camps. “If we don’t know, we ask. If we’re not comfortable, we won’t do it. We didn’t come into this expecting any handouts. That wasn’t the approach we took in football, and that’s not what we do here.”
That attitude has made the brothers quick contenders in the Triangle’s construction industry. Recently, they’ve landed a handful of major jobs and will be part of the teams renovating NCSU’s Reynolds Coliseum and building Union Station in the Warehouse District.
“Fifteen years ago when we were coming out of school, did we have plans of changing Raleigh’s landscape? Heck, no,” Torry says. “It was focused on ball back then. Now we have an opportunity to really change the landscape of the city of Raleigh and how it operates.”
Working out of an office building off Glenwood Avenue near the Angus Barn, the brothers don’t mind talking football, but it’s clear that their lives have moved on. Torry, 38, who was known in his football days as “Big Game,” is the more guarded of the two, but when he talks, there’s no bravado, just measured, matter-of-fact comments – something that makes him a natural in his side job as a TV and radio commentator for NFL games. Terrence, 34, who is president of Holt Brothers, is the more gregarious one, happy to take the business questions, focused on the company’s vision and mission.
Both enjoyed multi-million-dollar NFL contracts and could easily have kicked back to enjoy retirement and their young families after grueling years on the football field.
That’s not what they did. “When their football careers ended, they immediately started working in this community,” says Natalie Perkins, president of Clean Design and the chair of the Holt Brothers Foundation board. “That’s just who they are, that’s in their DNA.” Perkins says they’re committed to giving back. “You rarely meet people like these guys, who are down-to-earth, hard-working, and aren’t flaunting who they are and what they have. What drew me to them was their passion and their willingness to get engaged in their community.”
The Holt brothers grew up in Gibsonville, about an hour west of Raleigh. They were raised as UNC fans by a father who loved basketball coach Dean Smith. “In all honesty, we grew up thinking we would be UNC guys,” Terrence says. “Torry set the stage. He changed the trajectory for all of our family members when he went to N.C. State.”
Torry, who earned all-state honors in football in high school, signed on as a Wolfpack wide receiver in 1995 and went on to set countless records, including an ACC record in 1998 of 88 receptions for 1,604 yards and an N.C. State record of 16 touchdown receptions, helping him earn first-team All-American honors in 1998.
During those years, Terrence, who was a basketball star at Eastern Guilford High School as well as a football standout, would visit Torry and his friends in the dorms. When it came time to go to college in 1998, State was the obvious choice.
The two were roommates at State, Torry as a senior and Terrence as a freshman. “It allowed us to have a year to bond and become closer,” Terrence says. “He basically showed me the ropes.”
After being named ACC Offensive Player of the Year in his senior year, Torry was the sixth overall NFL draft pick. He went to the St. Louis Rams, where he stayed for 10 years. From there he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars and retired with the New England Patriots. Over the course of his career he played in seven Pro Bowls, earned a Super Bowl ring, and made 74 touchdowns.
With Torry off in the pros, Terrence made his own mark at Carter-Finley Stadium. As a safety, he blocked four field goals in 2001, tying a 1982 national record. He earned All-American honors during his senior season, when he helped the Wolfpack to a school-record 11 wins in 2002. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2003 and played six seasons in the NFL.
After football, it was a natural step to move back to Raleigh, both brothers say. While playing in the NFL, they kept homes here, returned in the off season, and for a time, even lived together before getting married and having children.
“This is home,” Torry says. “It’s just comfortable here. Once we decided to go into business, it made a lot of sense. We have a lot of roots here in North Carolina. We had a lot of people here who were willing to help us out, teach us about business and mentor us.”
Another plus: name recognition. Probably in no other community, other than the one in which they were raised, do so many people know who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what they are capable of.
James Sauls, the City of Raleigh’s economic development manager, has known Terrence since Sauls was a student trainer for State’s football team. He’s delighted his old friend is back.
“For us as a city, it’s a win-win,” Sauls says, “because you’ve got these two professional athletes, who are both well-known, and they’ve chosen to come back to Raleigh. They could have gone anywhere on the globe.”
Planting a seed
In 2007, while both were still playing football, they started planting the seeds for Holt Brothers Inc. They knew they wanted to be in business, maybe even real estate. They began studying the market, talking with people, asking for advice. They watched the real-estate market plunge and rise again and saw opportunity in construction. What they lacked in construction experience, they made up for in their years of being part of teams, and building teams, says Mary-Ann Baldwin, a Raleigh City Council member who is Holt Brothers’ vice president of marketing and business development. “That’s one of the assets they bring to the table that they learned in sports,” she said. “There are some interesting things that the sports world can teach you about business.”
Part of that team building meant acquiring A&M Construction, a construction firm with years of experience and strong community and business connections, including links with Highwoods Properties and N.C. State.
“We really tried to arm ourselves with personnel and experience so we could hit the ground running rather than trying to prove to folks, one hire at a time, that we were capable of doing projects for them,” Terrence said. “Being on teams our whole life, it’s kind of what we’re doing here. We see ourselves as owners and general managers that recruit top talent and give them goals about where to go.”
Their first project in 2011 was a $70,000 interior renovation. “We were just giddy and excited that we were going to be in business, that someone was going to be paying us, and that someone had solicited our services to do this work,” Terrence said.
Since then, they’ve grown their team and landed new jobs. At Reynolds Coliseum, they’ll be part of a team of firms that will add some much-needed heating and air conditioning to the gym, change the seating configuration and add a Walk of Fame. They’ll also help build Raleigh Union Station in the Warehouse District to address the area’s transportation needs and the Critical Public Safety Center for the City of Raleigh in Southeast Raleigh.
The company now has 15 employees, including a recently hired vice president of diversity and inclusion. It’s not a position at every construction firm, but it’s critical to how the Holts want to do business. “It’s important for us to have a workforce and staff that looks the way the world is,” Terrence says. “It’s important that we work with diverse firms, as well.”
While their celebrity status may help land meetings with potential clients, the Holts say they still have to prove their worth just like any other business owner would. “Not everyone can see you in the light of being a businessman, especially when they see you in the light of blocking a field goal or making a touchdown,” Terrence says. “We try to make them aware of our business prowess and educate them on what we’re doing, how passionate we are and how we care about what we do.”
Their football careers have come in handy when it comes to funding their Holt Brothers Foundation. The foundation raises money for kids affected by a cancer diagnosis and contributes to programs that provide emotional and educational support and opportunities to talk about their feelings or ask questions, including Kids Can! and Camp Kesem.
“A lot of times when the parent gets treated, the kids don’t get treated,” Torry says. “The kids endure a lot of pain and anxieties.”
He and Terrence know this pain first-hand. Torry was 10 and Terrence was 6 when their mother, Ojetta Holt-Shoffner, was diagnosed with lymphoma. She battled the disease for a decade before she passed away in 1996. In true Southern form, their mother’s illness wasn’t discussed in public, and there wasn’t an outlet for them to talk about what was happening. “We always vowed to keep her name going and do something in her honor,” Torry said.
That experience as children was key in their development as men and successful athletes, said Baldwin, who also works as the Foundation’s executive director. “Everything they do is motivated by their mom,” she says. “It changes who you are. You can’t control her disease, you’re afraid she’ll die, you don’t know what’s happening. It’s very frightening and confusing.”
To help raise money for the foundation, the brothers last year threw an NFL playoff party in Vaughn Towers at Carter-Finley Stadium, treating their more than 350 guests to pre-game and half-time shows, a chance to rub elbows with NFL players and the Washington Redskins’ cheerleaders, and a shot at winning Super Bowl tickets. The inaugural event brought in $90,000, and an even bigger one is planned for 2015.
Football also consumes them part of each summer, when the Holts have two day-long summer camps in Raleigh and Gibsonville for several hundred first through rising 12th graders. Sponsors pay for kids who can’t afford it; the result is a group from all backgrounds. Campers don’t just run football drills and get tips from the pros; they get life lessons: how to use social media appropriately, why they should listen to their parents, how to manage their courses in college.
“They need all that information, whether they go on to be in the NBA, baseball stars, top engineers or owners of their own companies,” Torry said. “We just happen to have their ear so we can pump them full of the information we think they need.”
The Holts are still deeply passionate about Wolfpack football, but instead of being on the field come game day, they’re in the weight room with the team, visiting with the coaches, or in the cafeteria with the players during the week.
Coach Dave Doeren says their consistent encouragement says plenty about the people they are. “They’re so modest and approachable,” Doeren says. “They love being around the team and supporting the guys and cheering them on.”
While it doesn’t seem possible for them to have more time to pack anything else in, they do. Terrence was recently named to the executive committee of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and recently chaired the fundraising campaign for Wake Education Partnership. Torry’s gearing up for his gig as a radio commentator for the Rams. And they just wrapped up coaching Torry’s son’s seventh-grade basketball team. Together, the brothers have five kids: Torry and his wife Carla have three children; Terrence and his wife Nikki have two children.
“People say, ‘What are they doing now?’ ” Torry says. “Well, we’re building a business. We’re changing the way Raleigh operates, and we’re doing it with other firms that have the same vision. For us, that’s really cool on so many levels. We’ll be able to talk about that for years on down the road.”