Tedy Bruschi went from wearing high-top basketball shoes, not cleats, in his first three days of freshman football practice in high school to becoming one of the most storied college and NFL players in history.
Bruschi’s humble beginnings included changing from a football uniform to a marching-band outfit after finishing his football games as a freshman and sophomore at Roseville (Calif.) High School.
His late mother Juanita Lacap did not want Bruschi to play football because of the physicality of the sport. She wanted him to sing in the choir and play the clarinet and alto saxophone.
“I remember I told her I wanted to play (football) when I was 14,” Bruschi said this morning during a press conference following his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame. “She wouldn’t buy me a pair of cleats because she told me, ‘I’m not going to spend money on cleats for football when in three days, I don’t know if you’re going to be there (still practicing), Tedy.'”
Being involved with the game has gone from three days to almost 30 years. Playing football was the best decision of Bruschi’s life, other than marrying former Arizona volleyball player Heidi Bomberger. They have three sons who are learning the values of having a well-rounded life that Bruschi learned from his mother.
“We have a mandatory rule in our household with my 12-, 10- and 8-year-olds that they must learn to play a musical instrument,” Bruschi said in the press conference. “I have a drummer, a guitar player and a pianist right now.”
Bruschi was in the midst of receiving one of the greatest honors for a college football player — the induction into the College Football Hall of Fame — and he was talking about learning how to play the piano and guitar with his children.
That’s what makes Bruschi a unique athlete in the public eye. His personality transcends the game. He is much more than his 52 sacks, an NCAA record he shares with former Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas. He is a constant work-in-progress with a personality that positively impacts those around him.
He did not play football before high school. An overlooked recruit, he had to prove himself as a college football talent at Arizona. Because of his size, he had to switch from defensive end to linebacker with the New England Patriots. He suffered a stroke and completed his goal for a successful comeback to the NFL. Through it all, he became a reliable family man with his wife and children.
Now he is trying to perfect his craft as an NFL analyst for ESPN.
“This takes me back to stories about how I even started playing football,” Bruschi told the crowd after his name was among the 12 players and two coaches inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame class.
“It was just by chance. I feel like I am here by chance because when I was a freshman in high school I hadn’t played football yet and I walked into freshman orientation and I saw a couple of my friends off to my right and they waved me over. I sat next to them and I looked down by their feet and they had cleats and a cooler.
“And I asked them: What are those for? They said, ‘We are going to try out for the football team. You should come.’ So I went and that’s how my football career started.”
Bruschi attended that first practice with those white basketball high-tops and an oversized T-shirt pulled over his shoulder pads. He had no idea what he was getting himself into. He did not even know what position he could play.
“That first practice in pads for me … I got help from my freshman football coach Don Hicks because I had never played organized football before,” Bruschi said in the press conference. “I walked through in practice and he brought us all up. You know, a coach will give you a pep talk and tell you what you have to work on.
“He clapped and said break into your positional groups. I didn’t know where to go and I was standing there in the middle of the field. The linebackers went this way, quarterbacks went that way, running backs went that way, and I looked at my coach and asked, ‘Where do you want me to go?’ And he looked me up and down and said go with the lineman, and that’s where I went. I played defensive tackle. I played offensive guard.
“Thank goodness he didn’t say quarterback. It worked out OK.”
Bruschi evolved into a credible player at Roseville while maintaining honorable grades. The National Football Foundation, which presented Bruschi the honor of becoming part of the College Football Hall of Fame today, also honored him with a scholar-athlete award as a senior in high school in 1991.
“That (award) really sent the message to me that football players do have the responsibility, not only with your grades but also off the field …. it’s what they were stressing,” Bruschi told Sirius/XM’s College Sports Nation after the press conference. “It’s the first time I put on a tuxedo. I remember that peach bow tie and peach cumberbund. You want to know why that was the color? That was the color of my mother’s dress. I wanted to match my mother’s dress.
“I mean, in 1991, that really planted a seed in my mind. (The National Football Foundation) does that every year with high school seniors that have done a great job in their high school careers and academically. For me, that’s when it really opened my eyes that this game of football is more important than just going out there and putting some pads on.”
When he laced up the pads and secured the helmet on his head, Bruschi was bent to prove people wrong.
Bruschi was not a heavily-sought recruit in high school. He was not rated among the top 100 recruits in the West by recruiting analysts. Arizona coach Dick Tomey, a father figure for Bruschi, liked the tenacity Bruschi showed in high school.
Tomey called Bruschi and his recruits a “Team of Joes” because of their obscurity. That “Team of Joes” evolved into the “Desert Swarm”, one of the most dominant defensive units in NCAA history.
“They called my recruiting class one of the worst Arizona has ever had so we really had a chip on our shoulder,” Bruschi said during the press conference. “We always fought to go out there and prove people wrong. And even when we started getting credit, I think we did a great job of manufacturing chips on our shoulders just to provide ourselves with that type of motivation because we don’t want them to be our friends now, you know.
“We just wanted to go out there and keep proving people wrong. Rob Waldrop, Brandon Sanders, so many great players that came through there … so many of those other players like Brant Boyer, Chris Lopez, Charlie Camp, Jim Hoffman, Ty Parten, a lot of guys no one has ever heard of, you know, but when we play together everybody heard of us.
“That’s what made us special and made us so proud. We really came out of nowhere.”
Waldrop was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011. Other former UA defensive standouts Chuck Cecil (2009) and Ricky Hunley (1998) are also in the Hall of Fame.
Bruschi, Waldrop and Cecil played for Tomey. Cecil earned a scholarship with Arizona after playing as a walk-on for Larry Smith. Hunley was recruited by Smith from Virginia.
Tomey and Smith do not meet the criteria for qualifying for the College Football Hall of Fame. They did not win at least 60 percent of their games as a head coach. Tomey had a .546 winning percentage and Smith .518.
Tomey and Smith, however, share a part of the honor for the Hall of Fame induction of these UA greats.
Tomey gets the credit for developing Bruschi into one of the best college football players in history. Bruschi’s mother deserves the honor for making him the man he is today.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.