By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Thursday, Jan. 13 2005

Little Torry Holt received a deferential smile and a pat on the head when, at
age 10, he marched up to his mother and proudly announced plans for an NFL
career. For Oejtta Holt-Shoffner, who labored at a yarn mill in tiny
Gibsonville, N.C., while raising her three children in a modest apartment,
dreams didn't often materialize.

Her husband, Odell Shoffner, held down two jobs. During summers as a teenager,
Torry earned $5 an hour picking tobacco from 7 a.m. until noon, an arduous task
that left his back aching and his hands and arms covered with gummy sap. Then
he reported for a full shift at a fast-food restaurant.

When his mother died of cancer in December 1996, Holt became more firmly
committed to his ultimate goal.

He soothed his grief by devoting himself to grueling workouts. He overcame
academic difficulties and became an All-America receiver at North Carolina
State.

And in April of 1999, the dream was realized. The Rams made Holt their
first-round pick, No. 6 overall, in the draft.

"How about that?" he said on draft day. "I've done it. So I know she's looking
down on me now smiling, and just happy as she can be."

Just imagine, then, how proud she must be of her oldest son now. He's a
three-time Pro Bowl selection, has played for a Super Bowl champion, and
recently achieved an NFL first: five consecutive seasons of at least 1,300
receiving yards.

"I haven't really had a chance to sit back and reflect on it like I want to,"
said Holt, 28. "Once the season is over I'll get a chance to just sit back and
chill, and just think about what has taken place."

So much has taken place over the years for Holt, who fell just 34 yards short
of repeating as the league's yardage leader. He had 94 receptions for 1,372
yards - both team highs - in the regular season, then tacked on six catches for
108 yards and a touchdown in the Rams' 27-20 victory last week at Seattle in
the opening round of the playoffs.

Holt, a speedy 6 feet and 190 pounds, will steam into Atlanta for Saturday's
conference semifinal match with the NFC South-champion Falcons riding one of
the most productive rolls of his six-year career. Over the past half-dozen
games, he has averaged seven catches for 117 1/2 yards, and scored five
touchdowns.

"I think with the emergence of these other two young players (wideouts Kevin
Curtis and Shaun McDonald), it takes a little bit of the coverage pressure off
him and he has a little bit more of an opportunity to be singled up," coach
Mike Martz said. "Early in the year, both of our outside guys were getting
doubled. That does affect you."

After his personal-best season in 2003 (117 catches, 1,696 yards), Holt this
year found opposing defenses targeting him instead of 11-year veteran Isaac
Bruce. While Holt struggled for catches, Bruce opened the season with four
100-yard-plus games.

"This is the first year that I've experienced where I felt teams actually were
trying to take me out of the game," Holt said. "It was good. It was
challenging. ... All it has done is help take my game to another level."

Martz said Holt refined his route-running and yards-after-catch skills, and
quarterback Marc Bulger said Holt's grasp of the offense took a leap forward.

"He's always had the physical talent to get things done, but now he understands
why we're doing things more," Bulger said. "If he needs to cut his route short
or maybe take it a yard or two deeper, he's doing those little things."

The Rams take a three-game win string - the second-longest streak among the
eight finalists - to the Georgia Dome. In that span, they averaged 431.3 yards
and 26.3 points, easily exceeding their season norms of 367.3 yards and 19.9
points.

"The confidence level that we have right now is ... totally different from Week
2," when the Falcons spanked the visiting Rams 34-17, Holt said. "We're winning
now, winning tough games. I think these last few weeks have been very important
for us. I would say this is probably the most confident we've been since the
last Super Bowl run (in 2001). ...

"This is a great time to be confident, this is a great to time to have that
momentum, this is a great time to be playing well. Hopefully we can stay that
way and continue to build on that."