LATROBE, Pa. Big plans fuel the lifeblood of training camps, which somewhat explains the buzz humming about the Pittsburgh Steelers' dreadlock-wearing No. 10.
"Santonio! Santonio!" the kids screamed after a recent practice, relentless in a quest for autographs. "Santonio, please!"
Santonio Holmes, the third-year receiver and former first-round pick, has used big plays as his signature in becoming a summer star. That he's poised for a bigger role not only on offense, but as a situational punt returner is no secret.
No wonder the autograph-seekers are so passionate.
Also apparent is that Holmes' designs for a breakout year start from the ground up.
"Sixteen games, that's all I'm worried about," Holmes said. "That will contribute to how successful my season is going to be. If I play all 16 games as the starter. It's not about yards, catches, touchdowns or averages. Just 16 games. If I don't play 16 games, who cares?"
Holmes started four games as a rookie, then won the job last year and missed three games with injuries. The Steelers view his determination to stay healthy as a testament to professional growth. A year ago, coach
Mike Tomlin lit into Holmes for being out of shape.
"I agreed with him," Holmes said. "I was tired after three or four plays, coming back to the huddle asking for a breather. That wasn't me. I just didn't train hard enough."
After an offseason of extensive distance running and sprints, Holmes who averaged an NFL-best 18.2-yard average on 52 catches last season arrived this summer with something to prove. Tomlin sees it.
"He can run all day," Tomlin says. "That's the key building block. When a guy is in condition, sharpens his skills, gets in sync with the quarterback the results are what they are. He's better positioned to take advantage of opportunities."
Prospects include punt returns, which Holmes did at Ohio State and as a rookie before Tomlin shut the door on that role in 2007.
"I know he's in great shape," Tomlin says. "That's why I wasn't interested in doing it last year. But I grew up in Virginia, in an era when (Washington Redskins Hall of Famer) Darrell Green was a part-time punt-returner who showed up big in big games. When you have skills that can help the team win, you let guys do what they do."
Holmes, who scored touchdowns on two of his three catches this summer, returned his first punts of the preseason on Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings. Tomlin sees a weapon to be employed when a spark is needed, when the opponent is pinned near its goal line, or when games are at stake.
This excites Holmes, who didn't have to lobby for the role.
"Being away from it last year, that kind of took away from my game," he said. "It kept me from getting my hands on the ball."
That mind-set surely extends to his flow on offense, where some expect Holmes will supplant 11th-year veteran Hines Ward as Ben Roethlisberger's top target. Ward, 32, has led the team in receptions for nine consecutive seasons and is the franchise's all-time leader with 719 catches.
"The biggest question is, 'Who's No. 1? Who's No. 2?' I don't worry about it," says Ward, off a 72-catch season. "They can put Santonio No. 1. But we don't sit there on the board and say, 'This is No. 1, this is No. 2.
Coverage dictates where the ball goes."
Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL, seems secure despite the emergence of Holmes and selection of wideout Limas Sweed in the second round. He laughs when considering the reviews that Holmes has garnered.
"Santonio's a great, young talent," Ward said. "This is the year he can make his name. If the media wants to give him all the attention, fine. You know what you're going to get from No. 86, so it doesn't bother me that I'm the guy talked about the least."
Ward has seen plenty receivers come and go. He's impressed that Holmes has attacked the biggest knocks with a vengeance.
"Usually, in your third year a light bulb comes on," says Ward. "All the talent's there. He has potential out of this world.
"But being consistent, that's how you make a name. You can't have a great game and then disappear. That's what I'm preaching to Santonio."