Former NFL linebacker Dwight Hollier focuses on tackling a different obstacle facing NFL players

After a nine season career in the National Football League, one former NFL player is making possibly an even bigger impact off the field than any player could on it.

Dwight Hollier, a longtime linebacker for the Miami Dolphins and a star at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has found a new way to make a mark on the league. Now, as the Vice President of Wellness and Clinical Services for the NFL, Hollier helps provide the necessary materials, education, and more, to aid current and former players.

Currently based in Charlotte, Hollier helps both former and current NFL players battle any kind of struggle within their lives through making sure counseling, support, and programs that can assist players in various aspects of life are available.

Hollier has been involved in several NFL programs focused on the health of its community, including the Bridges to Success Program, which helps players make the transition into or out of professional football, and the #NoMore campaign, in which Hollier made an appearance in a TV ad to help try to put a stop to domestic violence.

From Hitting to Helping

Dating back to his childhood Hollier always found football to be a passion of his. He would watch his dad coach a recreational football team and would get the opportunity to play and watch his older brother Gregory.

However, nothing shaped his love for the game quite like his roots.

“We grew up in a neighborhood where we would play games in the street all the time, and football was one of those games.” Hollier said. “The neighborhood exposure, it’s where I fell in love with [football] and then playing in the street and the competition, and it was just part of the everyday life about where I grew up.”

Hollier was a high school standout at linebacker, however he also played tight end and ran the ball a little, at Kecoughton High School in Hampton, Virginia. Hollier would then go on to play linebacker at UNC, where he would record over 500 tackles in just 40 games for the Tar Heels, which is 130 more than the Panthers’ star linebacker, Thomas Davis, had while attending Georgia.

Hollier was much more than just a player at Carolina however, he was also an outstanding student and a role model to his team and his community.

Yet football wasn’t the only thing Chapel Hill provided Hollier to his career in the NFL.

School was important to Hollier, however there was one class in particular that stood out from the rest to Hollier. That one class that would influence the rest of his life: psychology.

When asked about his outset for psychology, Hollier once again reverted back to childhood memories.

“It probably came from the way I was raised”, said Hollier. “We grew up without a whole lot of things, but no matter what we had we always had our door open for others, and that kind of mentality of always taking care of others really stood out to me.”

After college Hollier would be drafted with the 97th pick by the Miami Dolphins in the fourth round of the 1992 NFL Draft. Hollier was playing football in the pros at this point, something that is hard to fathom for normal, everyday men; yet he would still continue to pursue his passion for psychology.

Playing in the NFL was Hollier’s career for nine years, eight seasons with the Dolphins plus one with the Indianapolis Colts, however only a few years into his career Hollier knew he needed to have a plan for the future.

“Football doesn’t last forever.” Hollier says, “I was 27 and guys in the locker room were calling me the old dude… it was a term of endearment, but it made me realize that I needed to find something after the game was over.”

15 minutes before practice would end Hollier would get permission from head coach Jimmy Johnson to leave practice early in order to attend classes at NOVA Southeastern University. Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida was not only the location of the Dolphins’ training camp, it also had a noteworthy psychology program; a program that Hollier attended and would eventually gain his counseling degree from.

After an eight season career in the NFL, a feat that most players are not able to accomplish, Hollier hung up his cleats and put on his bow tie.

“One thing I loved about him was that he could really rock the bow tie” says Dr. Jonathon Anslow of Southeast Psych.

Southeast Psych is a counseling organization that has several offices in Charlotte, including one in South Park which would serve as Dwight Hollier’s leap from the NFL to mental health counseling.

Going from an NFL player to local Charlotte counselor was a big change in profession for Hollier, who was a man among boys compared to the other counselors.

“Dwight is a physically imposing figure” says Dr. Anslow, “he has huge hands… however he is kind of like a big teddy bear.”

Although he looks as if he could still be playing linebacker in the NFL, Hollier’s passion for helping others gave him his teddy bear reputation.

“I loved his lightheartedness, clowning around, his little quips and jokes he would tell… all in off hours of course.” Dr. Anslow says, “I have a lot of respect for him.”

Respect is something that Hollier is well deserving of, for his life after football has been filled with helping others achieve a healthier lifestyle. This is the kind of post-NFL life that is not heard enough about in the age of concussions and brain injuries being found in many former players, and Dwight Hollier is a man trying to help change that.

“I want to make sure players are doing their best, no matter where they are.” Hollier says.

This story was written as a part of the Charlotte Observer’s high school journalism Explorer Post. Questions? Email Corey Inscoe at cinscoe@charlotteobserver.com.