"The gist of the show is that we go through a gauntlet of drills and tests of conditioning and different football skills," Holley said from his Raleigh, N.C. home. "People are eliminated due to performance, or lack thereof. And ultimately, the winner of the show gets a spot on the Dallas Cowboys' 80-man training camp roster."
Holley has been actively pursuing his professional career since graduating from North Carolina in 2007, spending five weeks that fall on the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad before being released. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder then signed a one-year deal with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions in 2008 before this opportunity appeared on his doorstep, courtesy of a UNC sports information department recommendation.
The initial step in the process was a standard interview in Orlando, and then a callback sent Holley to Los Angeles for a workout and further interviews. The next thing the 25-year-old knew, he was packing his bags for Dallas and adjusting for 24-hour camera surveillance – on and off the Cotton Bowl field.
"At first, it was very weird," Holley said. "The first couple of days, it was like, ‘Man, there's a camera here, there's a mike there, and there's guys walking around.' But after the first five or six days, you kind of forget about it. You go on living your normal life and forget that the cameras are there. You just go on and do what you normally do."
Former NFL All-Pro Bill Bates coached the defensive backs and former Dallas special-teams coach, Joe Avezzano, directed the wide receivers. The show is packed with former Cowboy greats – such as Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Jay Novacek and Nate Newton – as well as Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. And as expected, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will make his presence known throughout the series.
"I'm one guy who doesn't get star struck when meeting famous people, but I must say, when I met Jerry Rice, that was definitely a jaw-dropping experience," Holley said. "To be around those guys and those names definitely puts you in a class by itself. To meet these people and to perform for these people, you really get an appreciation of football and for what these guys did for the National Football League."
For Holley, this show represents a big opportunity to re-establish his professional resume. The Roselle, N.J. native finished eighth in career receiving yards and career receptions as a Tar Heel, and was third on the team with 37 receptions for 466 yards in 2006. His best season occurred in 2005, when he earned honorable-mention All-ACC after catching 47 passes for 670 yards.
"You're only as good as your last play," Holley said. "I think this show has really given me and the other guys that are on the show definitely a chance at a rebirth, a resurrection. Getting our names floating back out there again and trying to make Jesse Holley a household name, like it was once before. Hopefully it will get people looking at you again and allow for somebody to give you a shot."
It's not uncommon to see Holley around the Chapel Hill campus, making visits to both the Kenan Stadium and the Dean E. Smith Center, where he played as a walk-on for Roy Williams' 2005 national championship squad.
"I don't like people to miss me too much," Holley said.
And it is those types of comments that made Holley a fan favorite during his career as a Tar Heel, and it's those types of comments that made him a near-perfect fit for an Irvin-led reality show on Spike TV.
"My personality is still bubbly, still outgoing and still fun-loving, and I'm probably going to say something that people are going to laugh at," Holley said. "I've been known to say some things in the past… Whatever you want to call it, it's still me. It's still Jesse Holley. There's always a quote waiting to happen."