Not the last frontier: Roughriders' Caleb Holley ready for more

Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Caleb Holley believes he still has a lot to prove to CFL fans and himself.

Holley considers himself one of the most underrated CFL players

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Caleb Holley (88) shakes off Edmonton Eskimos' Patrick Watkins (9) during first half CFL football action in Edmonton on Friday, August 26, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan)

Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Caleb Holley reintroduced himself to fans last week with a crucial 75-yard touchdown against Toronto. 

It was a big moment for the team and Holley, who has been overshadowed in the media spotlight this year thanks to the Riders star-studded receiving core.

Born in the small city of Albany, Ga., Holley moved to Anchorage, Alaska in his early teens. Surprising to some, it was the last frontier where Holley first blossomed into a future professional football player.

More than a decade later, Holley came to the Riders in the middle of the 2016 season — seemingly out of nowhere — and immediately became one of the bright new stars on the struggling football team. 

But after a few injuries and the additions of Duron Carter and Bakari Grant in 2017, Holley has had to scratch his way back into the limelight.

For a closer look, Holley talked to CBC Saskatchewan's Peter Mills about finding football in Alaska, the tragedy that hit his off-season home, and his quest for salmon burgers.

Tell me about growing up in Anchorage, Alaska.

It was fun. When I first moved there, I had never seen snow so I was excited until like the second week. I was like, 'All right, mom I don't want to live here anymore it's too cold' ... But we ended living there for like high school until I graduated.

Were you already playing football?

When I first moved there, no I wasn't playing football. 

Pretty impressive for someone playing professional ball now.

Yeah, I was really late starting. I just ran track, I was just an athletic kid. I wasn't particularly focused on doing one thing. But when I started football I loved it and I just kept going with it.

Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Caleb Holley goes up to make a grab during first half CFL action at the brand new Mosaic Stadium against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in Regina on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor)

Where do you spend the off-season?

Las Vegas. One of my mentors, he's like really close to me, I call him 'my pops', he's just like another father to me, and he lives in Las Vegas and I stay with him.

What was it like for you to see your off-season home suffer such a tragedy?

It was terrible. I just made sure all my friends back home were OK. I mean, it was terrible to see that from anybody. You don't go to a concert expecting to be shot. It was really terrible.

What did you know about the CFL when you first got the call?

I did watch a little bit, a few games, but I didn't know much about the CFL when I got the call. (My) agent was like, 'Yo, Saskatchewan wants to work you out.' Actually he said a couple of teams wanted to work me out and Saskatchewan was one of the first teams. So I was like 'all right cool' because I had just finished my Arena (Football League) season. I came up here and I like it.

So what did you do? Did you Google Saskatchewan? Did you already know where it was?

I definitely did. I Googled Saskatchewan, looked at the roster to see what receivers they had over here, and I was like 'all right, let's go.'

Did you know anyone on the team before you came?

I knew Naaman (Roosevelt) because me and Naaman played on Buffalo (Bills) together. Naaman helped me out and then before you know it, I was in the starting lineup.

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Naaman Roosevelt (82) celebrates with Caleb Holley (88) before scoring a touchdown during the first half of CFL football action in Winnipeg, Saturday, September 9, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan)

Why did you sign a contract extension with this team?

I wanted to come back. I feel like the team, the coaches, they love me here and they wanted me here or else they wouldn't have wanted to sign me again.

Do you feel like one of the more underrated players in the CFL?

Most definitely because I still got a lot to prove to a lot of people and to myself. I just want to be one of the top dudes in the league where everybody is like, 'Yo, we need to watch out for this guy.'

When the team brought in guys like Duron Carter and Bakari Grant, what did you think? Were you frustrated that you weren't necessarily going to be the No. 1 guy?

Not at all. I was excited actually because our chances of winning goes that much more up. Our crew is so dope (laughs). Everybody comes in and our whole receiving core is all love, man. We like to have fun and we hold each other accountable for everything that happens on the field.

You're going to go down in Rider history as the first person to score a regular season touchdown at the new stadium. What do you remember from that moment?

I just remember celebrating with my teammates. I didn't think of it like that at the time. You're just playing football. Then Duron (Carter) was like, 'Yo, save the ball!' And I was like 'why?' ... so I had K.G. (Kevin Glenn) sign it and I kept it.

Last week seven out of seven CFL.ca writers picked the Argos to win. Do you have anything to say to the people predicting this week?

I ain't got nothing to say to them. We gonna see when it comes out (laughs).

Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Caleb Holley runs the ball during first half CFL action in Regina on Sunday, September 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Random, rapid-fire questions

Do you like salmon burgers?

Salmon burgers? Yes.

Did you ever find salmon burgers at Walmart?

Here? No, I couldn't find them nowhere here.

You couldn't find them at Walmart?

Not here, no.

I saw you one day and you asked me if I knew where the salmon burgers were.

Oh that was you! (laughs) No, I never found them.

How is your diet decided? Do you have a dietitian or do you just go for what you like?

I just go for what I like. I know what to eat.

Are you addicted to the iPhone game Spades Plus?

Oh yes, I have it on my phone right now. Actually, I can show you. (Pulls out his cellphone) Right there.

Did someone actually tattoo your name on the inside of their lip?

See that's a long story, but yes (laughs).

Who is more of a pain in Anchorage, Alaska: moose or bears?

Bears. No actually, moose. You see more moose than you see a bear ... they just be like walking and sometimes they just walk out on the road and you don't see them and boom.

Going back to your diet, do you know what the Kodiak Arrest is?

No I do not.

Do you know what Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse is?

No I do not (laughs).

The Kodiak Arrest at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse in Anchorage is seven salmon cakes, three pounds of Alaskan king crab, a foot-long reindeer sausage, sautéed veggies, mashed potatoes, and a pound of ice cream. If you eat it in less than 60 minutes, you get a free T-shirt. Would you ever try that?

Yes I definitely would! Where is that at?

Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse in Anchorage.

I need that paper after you're done.

You bought yourself Popeyes chicken for Valentine's Day this year. One just opened in Saskatoon. Is it worth the drive? 

No, that's a two-hour drive, that's different. (A few lockers over from Holley, Rider receiver Rob Bagg says, 'Stick to KFC').

You played paintball on the bye week. If you could go one-on-one with anyone in paintball, who would it be?

Our team versus their team? 


All of them. What's up? Saskatchewan versus everybody else in paintball. We lit.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Roughriders (8-6) take on the Ottawa Redblacks (6-9-1) at  Mosaic Stadium on Friday, Oct. 13. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. CST.


About the Author

Peter Mills

Peter Mills is an Associate Producer with the Morning Edition on CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan. Follow him on Twitter @TweeterMillsCBC. Do you have a story idea? Email peter.mills@cbc.ca.