By now even middling NFL fans are familiar with the story of Haason Reddick, who went from playing in just four games as a high school senior to walking on at Temple to becoming the 13th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. But if the speedy linebacker has his way, the chapters he is about to write with the Arizona Cardinals will obscure some of that.
Reddick, despite a meteoric rise from the periphery of the draft when the 2016 college football season began, is far from satisfied. Being the feel-good story of the 2017 draft was cool and all, but it's not what he wants to be remembered for. And, most important, he understands that for all of the ridiculous hours of hard work he put in transforming himself from college afterthought to elite NFL prospect, the workload must only increase now to reward the Cardinals' steep investment in him in the first round and become the kind of high-impact football pro he aspires to be.
"I have thought about it a little bit, but I'm past that point now and I'm just focusing on what's next," Reddick told me about his unique journey as he prepares for his first rookie camp with the Cardinals this weekend. "That's old; that's in the past. The past is the past. It's time to move forward to things I want to accomplish in the future."
Reddick's lure has been growing for months, first emerging among area scouts and hardcore draftniks through his uber-productive senior season. Reddick, who played youth football in Camden, New Jersey, and had a broken femur mar any attempts at nabbing a college scholarship, was accustomed to the game he loved being a cruel mistress. He was told after his walk-on season that Temple didn't want him back on the team -- he wasn't good enough -- only to have that decision reversed when a coaching change was made.
He played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore, registering 27 solo tackles as a defensive end, before appearing in every game as a junior. In 2016, everything came together, as Reddick registered 9.5 sacks, with three forced fumbles and three passes defensed for the Owls. He confirmed suspicions about how well he could play in January in Mobile, Alabama, at the Senior Bowl before exploding at the combine. He blazed a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at 6-feet 2 and 237 pounds, in addition to completing 24 reps in the bench press and leaping 36 1/2 inches in the vertical jump.
Yeah, that kind of athleticism, coupled with a mounting array of game film, tends to get you noticed.
Reddick credits the coaches and support staff at EXOS for much of the gains he made leading up the draft, as he spent several months at their facility working six days a week alongside other draft standouts-to-be, like LSU safety Jamal Adams, who went sixth overall to the Jets.
"Oh man, it was a fun time, and it was really good for me," Reddick said, "being around a great coaching staff that really knew what they were doing, and they're there to help people maximize their ability. And being around the guys I was with for two months, six days out of the week, every morning, we became friends and we also competed in a fun way. Everything from lifting to the drills we did on the field, we were competing, but also had fun and made the best of being away from home and in an unfamiliar place. If you are going to be there that long you might as well make the best of it, and it was cool to compete with them at the same time."
He was generally one of the first to arrive and last to leave EXOS's Arizona-based facility, not wanting to take anything about this opportunity for granted. There he refined his technique with his sprinting and testing, prepared for the Wonderlic test and received media training as well as all of the usual athletic preparation.
"He came in and really bought into the entire process," said Trent Wilfinger, who oversees the EXOS draft prep program, continuing, "We throw a lot at them over a seven- or eight-week period of time, and there are some very long days in there. It's easy to get through Week 1 or Week 2, and it starts to show what you are made of by Week 5 and Week 6 when you're getting close to the combine. And he's one of those kids who was always on time, he always showed up with a great attitude and, really, he led this group in a lot of ways. Our team did nothing but rave about him."
By the time the draft came around, Reddick knew he could compete with the best prospects college football had to offer, and he also realized that there was too much glowing feedback coming from too many teams for his wait to be long that opening Thursday night. Had the Cardinals not grabbed him with the 13th pick, teams like the Eagles, Colts, Ravens and Redskins -- sitting just behind them -- were waiting to pounce. It was no longer a shock to hear his name mentioned in the top half of the first round by late April.
"Back then, before this year, no, I wouldn't have believed it," Reddick said of his soaring draft stock. "But through the process, seeing how hard I worked, knowing what kind of player I was, and what attributes I had, it wasn't shocking to me. I always knew I was a good player, and I had the skill-set, I just had to show everybody else what I was capable of."
As the Bears, Chiefs and Texans traded up into the top 10 picks to select quarterbacks two weeks ago, and the Cardinals had no passer to even consider with their pick, it was clear they were going to go with the player they had long identified as a potential key for them. Losing Calais Campbell was a potentially significant blow to their defense, and, when coupled with the departures of Tony Jefferson, Alex Okafor, D.J. Swearinger and Kevin Minter, left plenty of holes to fill.
The Cardinals wasted little time in calling in their pick, even with defensive standouts like Jonathan Allen, Malik Hooker, Derek Barnett and Reuben Foster still on the board. Reddick always felt a strong connection with the Cardinals through his time spent with coach Bruce Arians -- a former coach at Temple -- and others on that staff, so landing in Arizona was not unexpected. What did shock the Cards' brass was the fact that someone ahead of them didn't already take him.
"Definitely, they were the last visit that I had," Reddick said of the Cardinals, "and there was nothing but love from them. I knew that I was wanted there, and it was so crazy how well I clicked with those guys."
The Cardinals still boast an array of dynamic and versatile defenders, like Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Deone Bucannon -- shape-shifters who can move from one position to the next. Reddick projects best as an outsider linebacker but obviously has plenty of experience with his hand in the dirt as well, and the Cardinals will tap into plenty of that.
"We are elated with the addition of Haason Reddick," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "He's certainly a guy we were focused on from the beginning. One of the very best stories in this draft when you talk about a guy who overcame adversity and had a tremendous experience at Temple … We've talked before that what we try to do with our defense is build hybrid players who scheme fit into different spots. This guy can play inside, he can play outside … He's explosive. He's got a great first step."
"We love two-for-one players," Arians said. "When we get a guy who can play two positions equally great, that's a great situation for us … He will have a huge impact in a lot of different positions. He gives us tremendous flexibility in our sub defense."
Clearly, the Cardinals believe Reddick is primed to help them ASAP on Sundays, and in more than one way. But the 22-year-old rookie, from a hardscrabble background who didn't even think he would crack Temple's roster a few years back, is trying to maintain perspective along the way. He's eager to contribute in any way possible and continue exuding the passion, effort and determination that has propelled him this far, this fast.
"For this year, my goal is just coming in and making an impact," Reddick said. "Whether it be on special teams, whether it's getting reps on defense, or whether it's starting somewhere on defense, I've just got to make an impact.
"I just want to continue to bring my hustle and my determination, and that's basically what got me here. If you look at my film, most of my plays are just chasing everybody down on the backside, or hustling to the ball. That's one characteristic I want to bring to the next level."