GREEN BAY, Wis. – Ka’dar Hollman sent his old high school coach, Tom Maderia, a message shortly after last month’s NFL draft -- a simple thank-you note for what Maderia did for Hollman back at Burlington Township in New Jersey.
And one that was, in Maderia’s mind, completely unnecessary.
“You don’t have to thank me,” Maderia said he told Hollman. “All I did was coach you in high school. What you did once you left here, you did it.”
And then Maderia paused as he considered everything Hollman did from the time he left Burlington to the day he became a sixth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers.
“And he sure did it,” Maderia said.
If by that Maderia meant that Hollman would work at a bread factory alongside ex-convicts, tasked with making sure the loaves were edible; and on a Dunkin’ Donuts delivery truck that serviced the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area; and as a meat slicer at a local deli, then yes, Hollman did it.
If by that Maderia meant that Hollman would go to a prep school -- Milford Academy in New Berlin, New York -- after high school to try to increase his grades and college test scores, then yes, Hollman did it.
If by that, Maderia meant that Hollman would send emails to hundreds of Division I college coaches with highlight clips attached, then yes, Hollman did it.
If by that, Maderia meant Hollman would take his only offer -- a walk-on spot at the University of Toledo -- and turned it into a starting job, a full scholarship and the prospect of an NFL career, then yes, Hollman did it.
“It would’ve been real easy after graduating from Milford and not having anything just to continue working,” Maderia said. “There’s nothing wrong with blue-collar, tough jobs, but to say, ‘Hey, I want to better myself and this is what I’m going to do.’ You’ve got to give him credit that he said, ‘I’m going to send out the tapes, I’m going to write the letters.’ He did all that. He didn’t ask, ‘Hey Coach, will you do this for me?’ He did it. That impressed me, and I’m sure it impressed the guys at Toledo. One person gave him the chance, and he made the most of it.”
Those who know Hollman aren’t surprised. No, they didn’t know the speedy cornerback would turn into the 185th overall pick in the NFL draft.
“I couldn’t tell that right away,” said Toledo cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat, a former third-round NFL pick himself. “What I could tell right away was that he was fast and that he had a chip on his shoulder.”
Said Toledo defensive coordinator Brian George: “Nobody’s ever been able to tell him, ‘No, you can’t do this.' He’s one of those guys who just figures out a way to do what he wants to do. And he’s a very talented athlete, don’t get me wrong, but he’s one of those guys that as soon as you tell him, ‘I don’t know if you can do that,’ he just goes to work and gets it done.”
Work is the operative word in Hollman’s story.
After high school and after a semester at prep school, he went to work in the real word.
And he hated it.
The worst of the jobs?
“It’s really a tie between the bread dispensary job and being the [Dunkin’ Donuts] driver’s helper,” Hollman said. “The driver’s helper, you can go anywhere in the tri-state (area). So if I go out to New York, you might go to every Dunkin’ Donuts spot and [unload] that whole truck until it’s empty. If it’s wintertime and the weather’s bad, you don’t even get to go home. They put you in a hotel with the person you’re driving with and you don’t even know. And then the bread dispenser, you’re around a bunch of people standing up for eight hours opening bread all day.”
He lasted just two weeks at each job.
“I couldn’t even take it,” Hollman said.
The deli job was tolerable, at least for a while.
“Those jobs right there just made me more motivated because those are jobs I didn’t want to do my whole life,” Hollman said. “There were people I was working with telling me how they’ve been working there for 30 years, and I’m like, ‘This is not something I want to do when I get older.’ They just gave me more motivation and drive to get to where I want to be at.”
After five months at the deli, he finally got a message back from a Toledo assistant coach named D.K. McDonald. He invited Hollman to come as a potential walk-on. He played just one game as a freshman. After that season, Toledo coach Matt Campbell took the Iowa State job, and Hollman’s biggest advocate, McDonald, left with him.
But the new staff saw some of the same things that McDonald saw and not only kept Hollman around, but eventually gave him a scholarship.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” George said. “He had played mostly on special teams to that point, and really, that first year that I was there, he was really like our third corner. We had two guys in front of him that were both pretty good players -- and Ka’dar was still developing. He’s one of those guys that has continued to develop throughout his career, which is kind of why his story is so unique.”
By the time Hollman was done at Toledo, he was a four-year player who earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and a handful of credits toward a master’s.
“To do what he did, to not give up on this dream, he found a way to get himself someplace, and that place was Toledo,” George said. “He was sending out emails and trying to get a response from someone just to have an opportunity and fortunately someone at Toledo before I was there, said, ‘Hey you can come and walk on here if you want.’ And the rest of it is history.”
Oh, and Hollman ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at his pro day, a time that would have tied for fourth among all defensive backs at the combine had Hollman been invited and run it there. Combined with first-round pick Darnell Savage Jr., a safety who ran a similar 40, the Packers appear to have increased their speed in the defensive secondary.
“He’s a 6-foot guy who ran 4.3 for us,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “If you know his story, it’s one of determination and grit. We liked his aggressiveness on the field, his ability to play press and turn and run. So we brought him up here, got to know him a little bit better, and we feel like he fits what we want to do.”