All grown up: Holness stakes a Reggae Boyz claim
TORONTO, Canada:He's inches taller, with pounds packed on broader shoulders. Omar Holness is no longer the baby-faced high school teen who led Jamaica into the baptism of the 2011 Under-17 World Cup finals.
A second-year economics student and starting midfielder at the University of North Carolina (UNC), the maturity of the former Wolmer's High standout appears to have grown as well.
Now six-foot tall and 178 pounds, more than 20 above his Under-17 days, Holness is relishing his first call-up to Jamaica's senior Reggae Boyz to face Canada today (6:30 p.m. Jamaica time).
The boy has morphed into a man and believes he's primed to take the steps towards his goal of playing professional football and representing Jamaica at the highest level.
"Mentally, I think I'm ready," said the 20-year-old yesterday.
National coach Winfried Schafer, disappointed that more of the Under-17s from the Mexico World Cup haven't made the transition to the senior team - only Alvas Powell has actually played at that level - agrees.
"(Holness) was the captain (at the World Cup)," said Schafer. "He was a good player."
In Mexico, Holness faced Japan, Argentina and France, teams laced with professionals from some of world football's biggest clubs.
"It was quality opposition," he admitted.
Jamaica's performance - two losses and a draw - made Holness realise the workload the young Boyz had to carry to see their dreams materialise.
"We just needed to know that professional football is not a joke thing," he said of the World Cup experience. "It's just being ready and ready at the right time."
Holness has been prepping for his own rise. He has trained at English clubs Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers, played in Costa Rica and was a part of Jamaica's Under-20 programme. Holness also learned to battle adversity, following 2011 surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right knee.
"It kind of made me backtrack," he said. "I had to sit back and recover. I was out for about 11, 12 months. Just had to say to myself 'Do I really want this?'"
Turns out he did. Holness accepted a scholarship to UNC, where he has become a midfield mainstay at one of the traditional powerhouses in United States college football.
Holness has benefited, giving him confidence he can comfortably transition to the national senior team.
"What college football has taught me is just maturity, you know, making that step up to the senior programme," said the player noted for his passing and wicked shots.
"Yeah, it's a big step, but at the same time I don't feel over burdened by it. I'm more than prepared for it, not overly nervous about it."