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Holmes trying to stick with Buccaneers

His friends insist he is living a dream. Jermaine Holmes would disagree, if only he had the time. You see, his dream is keeping him up, night and day.

Holmes, a free-agent receiver with the Buccaneers, is a rarity in the NFL. A local kid trying to stick with the local club. Holmes was born in St. Petersburg and was a star player with Pinellas Park High a half-dozen years ago.

Now he is in training camp, wearing the uniform of a team he used to cheer as a youngster in the bleachers of Tampa Stadium.

And he works and struggles through two-a-day practices in order to survive a dream he knows is far from over.

"I go back to the old neighborhood and everyone is saying, "Yeah man, you're playing for the Bucs. We'll come watch you,'

" Holmes said. "It's hard to explain it to them. All they see is you're playing for the Bucs. They don't see the cutdown date. They don't see seven veterans in front of me.

"They think all I have to do is come out here and do what I've been doing and I'll be on the team. I can't explain there are nine other guys here who have been doing this even longer than I have, and are as good or better than me."

It is clear Holmes, 24, will not sleepwalk through this dream. He has no illusions about his odds of making the Bucs' roster. He is a rookie. He is a free agent. He is one of 10 receivers trying to win four, maybe five, available jobs.

"We've sat down and discussed his situation. There are so many people on the team and so many they have to cut. They're not going to just choose him, he'll have to make his way," his mother, Rose Dixon, said. "Sometimes he seems a little worried, but I tell him he has to have faith in himself."

In many ways, Holmes already has made the most of his skills on the field. Growing up in St. Petersburg, Holmes was more of a baseball and basketball player. He never played organized football until his freshman year.

Yet by the end of his sophomore season, Holmes was a leading receiver in Pinellas County.

"It was pretty strange. I never played much football and then all of the sudden I start hearing from these (college recruiters)," Holmes said. "It wasn't like I ever fantasized about being a football player, and the next thing I knew I was playing college football."

Holmes had feelers from Alabama and Florida State, but eventually settled on Virginia Tech after being bypassed by Miami, his school of choice.

His stay with the Hokies was better than most (67 career receptions for 993 yards and seven TDs), but not the stuff that NFL careers are made of. Virginia Tech's other receiver, Bryan Still, was highly acclaimed and was drafted by the Chargers in the second round. (A pick, incidentally, acquired from the Bucs for San Diego's first-round pick in '97.)

It was his height, 6 feet 1, and his reputation for running precision routes that got Holmes invitations for free-agent tryouts with the Eagles, Cardinals, Bears and Bucs. A lack of speed, however, may cost him the chance to stick.

"You know it's going to be tight, because we have some good receivers here. But he works hard and he knows how to run the routes," receivers coach Charlie Williams said. "Where he falls in, I don't have any idea right now."

With Alvin Harper, Horace Copeland, Courtney Hawkins and Charles Wilson in the picture, there may only be room for one more receiver. Sixth-round pick Nilo Silvan has the inside track because he can return punts. For Holmes, the best opportunity could come on the practice squad.

"I would be very happy making the team in any way, shape, form or matter," Holmes said. "My brother used to joke to me about playing for the Bucs one day. Hopefully everything will work out. I'm not there yet, but maybe I can make it a reality."