IRVING, Texas -- Reality show winner Jesse Holley earned a roster spot with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys promoted Holley from the practice squad Friday. They waived offensive tackle Robert Brewster, a 2009 third-round pick, to make room for the receiver who won an invitation to the Cowboys' 2009 training camp on the only season of Michael Irvin's reality show "4th and Long".
"This is the crescendo, I guess you can say," Holley said. "I've been blessed enough to get the opportunity to come here two years ago after the show. Every single day, I've been trying to prove my worth."
While some viewed the Spike TV show as another Jerry Jones publicity stunt, Holley's promotion is an old-fashioned football decision. The Cowboys need help on special teams and hope the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Holley can provide it.
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis fought for Holley to make the 53-man roster before final cuts this season. DeCamillis' wish was finally granted after a 73-yard kickoff return set up the Tennessee Titans' winning touchdown at Cowboys Stadium last week. Cowboys opponents' average starting position after a kickoff is the 30.8, which ranks 29th in the NFL.
Holley is expected to be active for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings and play a major role on special teams. He practiced with the first team on punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return this week.
"I've really been trying to get him up for a long time," DeCamillis said. "The opportunity presented itself, and hopefully he does well. His [effort] stands out over a lot of people that I've seen in the past. We're hoping that a lot of that same energy he brought in the preseason we can get for this game."
Holley had been out of football since being released from the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad in Oct. 2007 before landing on Irvin's reality show, which pitted 12 NFL wannabes against each other in 10 episodes during the spring of 2009.
Holley said he was happy to be part of the Cowboys when he went to training camp and even after he was signed to the practice squad last summer. Then something clicked and he started to believe that he could be a significant contributor.
His effort as a scout-team receiver earned praise from the coaching staff and front office, as did his performance on special teams during preseason games. Executive vice president Stephen Jones referred to Holley as one of the team's hardest-working players, explaining how a long shot with no interest from the rest of the league earned a roster spot with the Cowboys.
"That tells you a lot about what he's about, perseverance and hard work and not giving up," Jones said. "It's all he's done since he's been here, is work, work, work and everybody [should] take notice."
Added Irvin: "The way he practices is always good. That's how he's earned coach [Wade] Phillips' respect. It's not anything I did on the show. I gave him an opportunity; he had to go earn that [roster spot]."
Holley figured out that his best chance to play in the NFL was to excel on special teams.
He understood the numbers game at wide receiver with Pro Bowler Miles Austin, highly-paid Roy E. Williams and first-round pick Dez Bryant at the top of the depth chart. A receiver with solid but not spectacular college career numbers at North Carolina (126 catches, 1,760 yards, seven touchdowns) didn't have a realistic shot to crack the Cowboys' rotation.
"There are only three or four receivers that can be on the field at the same time," Holley said. "There's 11 spots on special teams. I can get one of those. You just have to go out there and show them that you can play and want to play it.
"Special teams is nothing to do with your athletic ability. It's 100 percent want-to. How bad do you want to go down there and run into that wedge? How bad do you want to go down there and make that tackle or block somebody? My want-to is a lot greater than a lot of other people's."