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Former Utah Receiver Greg Holder, Glass Art Icon

Jul 22, 2022, 8:30 AM | Updated: 2:20 pm
Greg-Holder-Glass-Helmet-Art...
Greg Holder specializes in creating glass artwork that honors his time as an athlete at Utah. (Photo courtesy of Greg Holder)
(Photo courtesy of Greg Holder)

SALT LAKE CITY- The 1980’s were different times for the Utes. Yes, they rolled out some prolific offenses that could light a defense up. Only problem is Utah never had a defense that could stop an opponent through those years and so despite putting up a ton of points, the Utes were also walking away with a ton of “Ls” too.

Despite the tough years, many of the alumni from that era still bleed red without hesitation. One of those faithful Utes is wide receiver Greg Holder (1985-1986) who has turned his unwavering love for Utah into a career making sculpted glass artwork in honor of sports icons.

Icons By Holder

Like most former athletes, Holder wasn’t sure where to go or what to do once he was no longer playing football. He had a good experience with the Utes, and extended his time with football a little longer with the Raiders, but once that was gone Holder admits it was a struggle to figure out what was next.

“I just had great times at Utah while I was there,” Holder said. “The camaraderie and friendships I built I still have today after 30 years. I didn’t finish school because I signed with the Raiders. I was actually able to go back home [to Los Angeles] and signed with the Raiders. I got cut and I was brought back for the strike season. I ended up with two years with the Raiders and it was a great time. I learned a lot, but that was it. They say the NFL is ‘not for long’ and I absolutely agree. It didn’t last very long and so I found myself in an identity crisis because that was basically all I knew.”

Holder eventually picked up glass sculpting through doing stained glass windows first. Discovering he had a knack for the work, Holder took it a step further by designing artwork that focused around sports (his first love) and other cultural icons. As it turned out no one else had really thought to do something like that and so Holder started himself a successful business by finding a niche that people were interested in.

“I picked up the trade- I was self-taught and I got my break 22 years ago by designing stained glass windows and the owner told me to try my hand at sandblasting,” Holder said. “I was a stickler for detail and picked it up right away. The power of art is amazing and I’ve been lucky to have a successful career as an artist and not a struggling artist. What I love most is creating sports entities and icons in glass. Nobody was doing it and I decided that it would be something good for me to do.”

These days Holder isn’t alone in his passion for making glass artwork. Along with his business, Icons By Holder, he is also working along side his wife who is a talented vase designer on their new business, Milani Rose, named after their infant daughter.

“Now my wife is designing vases and I do the artwork inside the vase or outside of the vase,” Holder said.

Holder Honors Ute Icons

Holder’s passion for his alma mater is very apparent both on Twitter and on the phone. Back in the day Holder may have been using his talent as a receiver to say something on the football field for the Utes, but these days he’s using his art instead. Last year Holder made his way back to Utah to support the Ron McBride Foundation’s ‘I Love You Man” Golf Tournament.

“I was recently back in Utah and I did the ‘I Love You Man’ foundation with coach McBride,” Holder said. “His foundation hired me to do a couple of events with them. I did it last year and raised a lot of money with my art. It was very good. It was the first time that a lot of my old teammates got a chance to see my work.”

Before that, Holder came out in 2019 to witness his friend and former teammate Eddie Johnson be inducted into the Crimson Club Hall of Fame. Naturally, Holder came with a custom gift for Johnson as well. It was Holder’s first time back to Utah in over 30 years, and allowed him to show his wife why he has such a deep passion for the Utes.

“Eddie was just blown away. He cried and everything,” Holder said. “That was just an amazing time. That was the first time my wife was able to go to a game and experience that. She’s been a Utes fan ever since and will be for the rest of her life. It was great to come back and walk up to the U.”

22 Forever Icons

Like most die-hard Utes, Holder was saddened in an indescribable way at the lost of running back Ty Jordan and cornerback Aaron Lowe within nine months of each other in 2020 and 2021. As an artist with a deep connection to Utah Athletics, it is Holder’s hope he can honor both players for the team in the way he knows best: glass.

“The whole 22 experience and losing them the way that we did to gun violence,” Holder said. “It really shocked the country- not only Utah but it kind of shocked the whole country athletic-wise when a lot of people found out what happened. I want to, for the new area in the stadium- I want to honor both of those boys. It’s going to take a minute, but I want to do two large pieces in glass for those boys. I want to honor their legacy, and I want to honor their families.”

Holder thinks the reason that story hit so hard for so many people, and why former athletes take so much pride in being a Ute is the brotherhood that is formed. It doesn’t matter if you played with someone or not according to Holder. Everyone recognizes the grind to build the program up one block at a time.

“It’s a brotherhood. It’s not just a brotherhood- it’s a brotherhood and sisterhood too,” Holder said of Utah Athletics. “From the Red Rocks to the volleyball team, I mean, we just love all of Utah athletics and everybody that is out there striving for perfection and striving to accomplish their goals as student athletes. We understand it. We know what it was like for us, and we see them accomplishing all of these goals and championships and it makes us proud to be Utes. We never give up. We keep climbing that hill no matter what.”

Man In The Mirror

While his time was not the smoothest in Utah history, former head coach Jim Fassel left a profound impact on the men he coached. In fact, despite most fans wanting to forget the “Fassel Era”, Holder still sees elements around the program from his coach’s time at the helm.

“Jim Fassel, I love that man to death,” Holder said. “When he passed away- my wife saw me in the kitchen, I was working on a piece, and she saw me tearing up. He would always say- I don’t know if he said it before Michael Jackson, or if he got it from the song, but Jim Fassel always used to say ‘Man in the mirror, gentlemen’. That would make us check ourselves on our assignments, our classwork, our work, our work ethics on and off the field. That’s what he was about. Our theme song was Sister Sledge, ‘We Are Family’. I can tell you, for my era, family was real when it came to being a Ute. We got that from Jim Fassel and Ron McBride.”

Ute Proud Forever

The one-time JuCo product from El Camino College probably had no idea how profoundly being a Ute would change his life back when he transferred. Holder may not be one of the biggest names to ever come out of Utah, but he’s certainly one of the proudest.

“My desire and passion for the university runs deep,” Holder said. “I just love that school. I love every aspect of, and every field of professionalism that they represent. I encourage a lot of the players on Twitter and I try to share with them my experience and just little moments of letting them know it was the best choice I could have made in my life coming out of South Central, Los Angeles. At that time in the ‘80’s it was drug infested, gang infested even though I came from a two-parent household.”

Holder couldn’t be more excited to see the progress his alma mater has made since he was a student athlete in the mid-80’s. In his mind, the growth isn’t surprising and Utah is right where they need and deserve to be.

“Everything that has happened for the University of Utah athletic program and football team- everything that is happening is happening because of dedication and hard work,” Holder said. “The coaches and the families there believe- the fans? Amazing. Just amazing. It warms my heart, and it did that first game I came back, and I hadn’t been back in 30 years. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do- continuing to evolve into a powerhouse. I’m really proud of them.”

At the end of the day pride is what being a Ute is all about to Holder which is fitting since he takes enormous pride in every aspect of his life. Whether it’s his time playing football, his artwork, friends, family- Holder is just happy its all been his to enjoy, appreciate, and give back to.

“Pride. Pride in the camaraderie, the brotherhood and the life memories,” Holder said. “That’s something no one can take away from you once you’ve been a part of the Utah family in the Utah football program. I can’t tell you enough how much I love those guys. Even the ones I don’t know. It was the best choice I made in my life.”

 

 

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