Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 11/14/11
HOUSTON -- Brooks Reed is the anti-Mario Williams, or at least that how he sees himself. Now, Reed has not exactly said this in specific terms (or, really, in generic ones), and he certainly would never describe himself as "anti-teammate." But there are three factors at play in Reed's NFL existence -- (1) the way Brooks Reed perceives himself, (2) the way the general populace (and perhaps Reed) perceives Mario Williams, and (3) the way Brooks Reed actually is that don't all jibe. Mario Williams is everything Brooks Reed has never thought he was. "In high school I had self-image problems," says Reed, the Houston Texans rookie linebacker who has seamlessly taken over for the injured Williams. "I was always like, Dang, look at that guy over there. He's huge.'" Mario Williams is That Guy Over There. He always has been. He was a blue-chip prospect out of high school and an All-American at Maryland. At the 2006 NFL Scouting Combine, he measured 6-foot-7, 295 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds and recorded a 40.5-inch vertical leap. The term "freak athlete" gets thrown around a lot, but Williams was a living Adonis in shoulder pads. The Texans had the No. 1 pick in that draft, and selected him instead of Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Vince Young, a controversy that retrospectively seems hilarious. Williams has been an excellent NFL player. He has been to the last two Pro Bowls, and has 53 sacks in 82 career games, but there has always been this sense that mere excellence wasn't good enough for him. He was supposed to lift the rest of the NFL over his head and heave it into the Gulf of Mexico. Reed was taken in the second round of this year's draft to be the backup to That Guy Over There, a real-life manifestation of something Reed has always seen in his head. "Brooks didn't see himself as the biggest, strongest, fastest kid out there," said Reed's high school coach, Jay Campos. "He saw himself as a small, scrawny guy that was gonna have to do the best he could." This perception was inaccurate. "He was a freak even as an eighth and ninth grader," Campos said. "He was four or five inches taller than everybody else. His senior year he was about 6-3, 215 pounds and could run as fast as any kid in the state." Reed was on the 4x100 relay team at Tucson, Ariz.'s Sabino High School, which was the state runner-up his senior year. On the football team he was a fullback and a defensive end. In the halls, he was the huge guy who didn't talk much and didn't comb his hair. "No one ever messed with me," Reed said. "I guess that was the vibe I gave off. Not intentionally." That has been a theme in Reed's life. He is accidentally terrifying. When he got to the University of Arizona, he started growing out a head of hair that now obscures name on the back of his jersey. Which is just as well. He sees the hair as his identity anyway. "It's kind of like that alter ego kind of thing," he says. "You let it down for the game. Rock star, wild man, whatever you want to call it. It goes along with the persona I carry on the field." At Arizona, it grew to the point the 6-year-old daughter of defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt thought Reed looked like King Triton, a mythological Greek god who is best known to 6 year olds as the sea king in Disney's The Little Mermaid. "I tried to get Brooks to dress up as him for one of her parties," Hammerschmidt said, "but he didn't want to do it." Of course he didn't. Reed doesn't see himself as a Greek god. That didn't stop anybody else, though. Reed moved from fullback to defensive end early in his career at Arizona, a move that triggered what Reed calls his alter ego. It was then he began growing out his hair, and it was then he became a terror, the stormy quiet one who seemed capable of unleashing thunderbolts at any moment. Reed's teammates at Arizona, no twerps themselves, didn't dare cross him. "They were scared to death of him, I think," Hammerschmidt said. "He got to the point when he was who he is, an, "Oh my gosh" guy, the quiet guy that nobody ever wants to piss off. He may have a long fuse because he's so respectful, but as soon as that fuse is done, it would be all over." Reed had 15 sacks in college and was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection as a senior. But that doesn't quite explain the impact he had on the Wildcats' defense. It is seven weeks into Arizona's season when Hammerschmidt is asked to characterize Reed's effect. "Well," he says, "we have two sacks this year." Scouts, looking at Reed as a linebacker, wondered about his ability to drop in coverage, something he rarely did for the Wildcats. But Hammerschmidt said there wasn't much else to it. Reed is 6-3, 250 pounds and has a motor that never quits. Either that's what you're looking for or it isn't. The Texans, who ranked 30th in the NFL in defense last year, were. They took Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round and Reed in the second. When he heard his name called, Reed shot a text back to Campos in Tucson: "Thanks. I couldn't have done this without you." "I'm thinking, 'Come on, any program you went to you would have been awesome regardless who was your coach,'" Campos said. "That's Brooks." Same story in college. "Shoot," he said. "I didn't make him anything." Reed does come from good stock. His father, Bob, was a good enough wrestler to do it at Arizona. Bob's kids are Brooks, an NFL linebacker, Lucas, a tight end at New Mexico and Katie, a professional model. Reed's parents divorced when he was a kid, and Brooks lived with his dad, who worked in real estate. That has been a volatile market, especially in that part of the country. The Reeds always made it by, but the men who coached Reed think his determination is linked to his some sacrifices made by his father. "They didn't have a ton of money," Campos said. "They had enough money to get by. The kind of guy his dad was, he move to an area that had a good school, that had a good football program. He wanted to put his kids in the best situation possible. I think Brooks saw that and realized his dad made some sacrifices to put his kids in a good academic and athletic situation. I think he didn't want to let his dad down." Hammerschmidt saw something similar in Reed. "I don't know if it's from his dad, who was a hard-working guy that he felt like, financially he needed to go out and do this to help the family or do something great for the family and he had an opportunity and accepted the challenge," he said. "I'm sure they're doing OK. I'm not saying that. He sees this as he's going to go do this for his family." Bob doesn't think that's it. He thinks it is more internal than that. "That's very nice of Jay to say that and I'd swell with pride if I thought Brooksie was so focused because of what he felt he owed his dad," Bob said. "I think Brooks is a very focused person. He's one of those people who does something well and that's all he's interested in. He likes his truck, and he played video games and stuff like that, but mainly his interest is football. And it's those kinds of people that don't get distracted along the way that end up succeeding in a lot of cases. The artist who all he wants to do is paint and doesn't really have any conflicting interests in his life. He doesn't have a job or any sort of other thing that distracts him from that. Brooks is that way." Brooks himself passes that idea down the line, saying he thinks it applies better to his brother. Brooks, rather, is on an unending quest to be That Guy Over There. Williams is out for the season after accumulating five sacks in five games. Reed is in now. He has five sacks in the last five games. Houston has the NFL's No. 1 defense. As he stands there in the Texans locker room, Reed is not that guy. He has his hair pulled back into what a hair stylist might call a "bun" and a linebacker wouldn't call anything at all. He speaks softly, but that hardly says it. Angry, bitter people sometimes speak softly, and this isn't that. Having a conversation with Reed is like getting tucked into bed. This is the guy everybody was afraid of? Brooksie? "He's a sweetheart of a human being," Bob said. On the field, the hair flows. Opponents often end up ripping it out, Reed says. But he doesn't feel it. He doesn't feel anything. He just goes. "It's kind of like a switch," Brooks said. "It's a different personality that's hidden. Something I never show. When you're on the field playing something like football, you can just let it loose. There's not too many sports where you can try to hurt the guy across from you." He's that guy.
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