From walk-on to NFL prospect, Haason Reddick personifying Temple's rise

From walk-on to NFL prospect, Haason Reddick personifying Temple's rise

There was a time not all that long ago when no one wanted Temple football.

The downtrodden program was mired in a state of misery to the point it was kicked out of the old Big East conference and left to fend for itself. Heck, even some of its own didn’t want it as the program found itself on the university’s chopping block, just a vote or two away from complete extinction.

But the program was given another breath and another chance. And though there were rough times in between, the faith eventually was rewarded with this season’s American Athletic Conference title, just the second conference championship in program history and first since 1967’s Middle Atlantic Conference title.

There was also a time not all that long ago when no school wanted Haason Reddick.

The Camden native’s senior year at South Jersey’s Haddon Heights High School was limited to just four games as injuries sunk the then safety’s season and chances for Division I college football scholarships.

Unsure of how to play at the college level without a scholarship, Reddick and his father drove to Temple’s campus to lobby for a spot with the Owls. Then head coach Steve Addazio let Reddick on the team in 2012, but redshirted him, leaving Reddick to contemplate his football future.

But then Matt Rhule and his staff came to North Broad Street and put their faith in Reddick.

Reddick has rewarded that faith, and then some, with a monster senior year that’s included 9.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss (a number that leads the entire nation), three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and even an interception when the versatile, athletic freak of a defensive lineman dropped outside in coverage during the conference title win over Navy.

“For me, this is indescribable,” an emotional Reddick said while proudly wearing his Temple-logo emblazoned AAC champions hat after the Owls’ conference title game triumph in early December.

“I didn’t get the chance to be a champion in high school. So to come here in college, on a platform like this, and lead as a senior and as a champion and having the season that I had, it means everything to me. I’m truly blessed.

"I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I just thought about all I went through and we went through and what it took to get to this point."

On a team with stars and school record-breakers such as senior quarterback Phillip Walker and senior running back Jahad Thomas, perhaps no Owl epitomizes Temple’s struggles and rise more than Reddick.

His redshirt freshman season was in 2013 when the bottom fell out for the 2-10 Owls. But during that season, he moved to defensive end and showed he had the skills to contribute there as he played in nine games (with one start) and even recorded a sack and a fumble recovery.

Reddick’s steady rise continued in 2014 when he again played in nine games (with two starts) and recorded 23 tackles, seven of which were for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. And even though the Owls were bowl eligible with a 6-6 final record, they weren’t invited to play in a postseason game.

Fast forward to 2015, where Reddick’s yearlong coming out party began as soon as the season started. He won the starting defensive end job before the 2015 opener against Penn State. In that game vs. the Nittany Lions, Reddick showed his improvement was no fluke with four tackles and 1.5 sacks as the Owls beat the Nits for the first time since 1941. He finished 2015 with 21.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and a forced fumble as the Owls went 10-4, but dropped the AAC title game to Houston and the Boca Raton Bowl to Toledo.

But, on a personal level, there was still no scholarship for the immensely talented Reddick.

That was until this past July when he was finally rewarded with a scholarship and finally shed the walk-on label. It was at that time he was also assigned jersey No. 7, a distinction of respect as Owls teammates vote to give single-digit jersey numbers to the teammates they consider the toughest.

He backed all of that up this season. Perhaps his most dominating showing came on the national stage against Memphis when he recorded 11 total tackles, five of which came for a loss, and two sacks.

“He’s really got good genetics. He can run and jump and he’s probably the second-fastest guy on our starting defense as a defensive end,” Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow said of Reddick, who’s been invited to play in the Senior Bowl in late January.

“He has all those skills, and he never really translated them over to making a lot of plays until this year. Everything now is starting to gel. He’s made a lot of plays doing a lot of different things for us. He’s really been a versatile player for us.”

Over his time at Temple, Reddick has been tutored by the likes of Tavon Young, Matt Ioannidis and Tyler Matakevich, all of whom were selected in the 2016 NFL draft.

One of the most important things he learned from that trio was leadership. Reddick, along with senior linebacker Avery Williams, are the unquestioned leaders of a stout Temple defense that’s third in the nation in total defense behind only Alabama and Michigan.

When the Owls need a play, the focus falls on those two. Perhaps just as important, when the Owls need a voice to speak up, whether internally or externally to the media, the focus again falls on those two. The leadership role is one Reddick has embraced and that’s not lost on his fellow defenders.

“He’s definitely evolved as a leader and player,” junior safety Sean Chandler said of Reddick. “At one point, Coach Rhule and the staff pulled up film from his freshman year and all the seniors’ freshman year and we saw how he’s come and how far they’ve all come, whether it was leading or just playing football. We saw they have grown up a lot.

“We saw, for the most part, how he and they all got bigger. They were some skinny guys. We can tell they are just way better football players.”

Much like the program, Reddick dealt with uncertainty before becoming a champion. Now he’ll leave Temple with the second most tackles for loss in program history (45) with a chance to add to that total in Tuesday’s Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland vs. Wake Forest.

Reddick’s impact as been recognized outside of Temple, though, as he continues to rise up NFL draft boards as some pundits currently have him slotted as high as a second-round pick in this coming April's draft, which will be held on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City, just across the river from Reddick's native Camden.

At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Reddick is probably undersized to play defensive end in the NFL. A move to outside linebacker is probably in his future at the next level. But, with his athleticism and the various roles he's played in Temple's defense, especially this season, it's a move that shouldn't pose too much of a challenge.

"The two things that stood out are his motor and his instincts. His pursuit in both the pass rush and the running game are insane," draft analyst Paul Hudrick said of Reddick's game. "He clearly carries the chip of being a walk-on with him when he plays. His ability to play with his hand in the dirt or out of a two-point stance stands out. For a pass rusher, he understands the scheme and is able to diagnose plays and pursue like an inside linebacker.

"He can be a nice piece with the right coach in the right scheme. It's tough to come up with an NFL comparison, but hybrids are all the rage."

But the journey filled with highs and lows to get to this point is not lost on Reddick.

“I got on this team and my whole thing was just to make the best out of the situation I was in.  That’s what I did,” Reddick said. “Now I’m here where I’m at today.”

“Today” is one of the last days as a leader in cherry and white. Tuesday is the end of a college career that’s been a story in its own. Wednesday is the beginning of a promising future some thought would never be.

No. 14 Penn State's defense dominates Rutgers

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No. 14 Penn State's defense dominates Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Trace McSorley threw two touchdown passes to tight end Pat Freiermuth and No. 14 Penn State's defense set up two touchdowns with turnovers in a 20-7 victory over Rutgers on Saturday, sending the Scarlet Knights to their 10th straight loss.

McSorley's touchdown passes covered 6 yards in the second quarter and 18 in the fourth as the Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten, No. 14 CFP) beat Rutgers (1-10, 0-7) for the 12th straight time. Jake Pinegar added field goals of 22 and 19 yards.

The win was No. 30 for McSorley as a starter, making him the winningest quarterback in school history. The senior had been tied with Todd Blackledge (1980-82) and Tony Sacca (1988-91). The two touchdowns increased his total - running and passing - to 101.

Raheem Blacksheer scored on a 2-yard fourth-quarter run for Rutgers to deny Penn State its first shutout in more than a season.

The dominant group for Penn State was its defense, which forced three turnovers, had four sacks and 11 tackles for losses and held Rutgers to 46 yards passing.

Safety Garrett Taylor intercepted a horrible pass by freshman Art Sitkowski late in the second quarter to give the Nittany Lions the ball at the Rutgers 28. Four plays later, McSorley (17 of 37 for 183 yards) found Freiermuth for a 10-3 lead with 2:04 left in the half.

Senior Gio Rescigno replaced Sitkowski (3 of 7 for 18 yards and two interceptions) after the bad decision on the screen pass Penn State read from the start.

A Daniel Joseph recovery of an Isaih Pacheco fumble at the Rutgers 46 late in the third quarter set up the second TD pass early in the fourth for a 20-0 lead.

The Scarlet Knights should have scored in the third quarter. After moving 82 yards on 14 running plays, they ran a fourth-down flea flicker from the 2-yard line and a wide-open Rescigno dropped a soft pass from Trey Sneed, who had lined up outside and took a toss from Blackshear.

The takeaway

This was not an impressive performance by the Nittany Lions, who were hoping to move into a position for a possible New Year's Day bowl game. The offense never got going and the only reason it was no contest was the Penn State defense.

The Scarlet Knights are now facing the prospect of their first one-win season since going 1-11 in Greg Schiano's second season, in 2002. Rutgers was 0-11 in 1997, so this isn't rock bottom. The 10-game losing streak is the longest since losing 11 in a row over the end of the 1998-99 season.

Up next

Penn State: Plays host to Maryland next Saturday and then waits for a bowl bid.

Rutgers: Finishes season at Michigan State next Saturday.

Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

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Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Charles Matthews set the tone with a slam and celebrated by flexing to the crowd.

Quickly, the rematch turned into a rout.

Matthews scored 19 points, Ignas Brazdeikis had 18 and No. 18 Michigan beat No. 8 Villanova 73-46 Wednesday night in their first meeting since last season's national championship game.

Villanova captured its second title in three years with a 79-62 victory over Michigan in April but was completely overmatched in the second game at its newly renovated Pavilion.

"I don't think when I'm out there," Matthews said, explaining his emotional reaction to a basket less than 90 seconds into the game. "It was a fun, exciting game. I got the dunk and I screamed."

Eric Paschall scored 10 points and Phil Booth had nine for the Wildcats (2-1).

The Wolverines (3-0) jumped ahead early and never let up. They led 10-2 less than five minutes in and expanded the lead to 22-8 on Matthews' jumper midway through the opening half. A 17-3 run followed, giving Michigan a 39-13 lead. Matthews' dunk and consecutive 3-pointers from Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole highlighted the run.

Matthews capped the impressive first half with a steal and layup to send Michigan to the locker room with a 44-17 lead.

"I'm very impressed with Michigan," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Really like their team, great togetherness, great execution. It's my fault I'm running a lot of guys out there. We're not as organized as we want to be. We're trying to figure out a lineup early in the season. We didn't have the cohesiveness to play a good team like that."

Villanova's frustration was evident after Michigan's Zavier Simpson's flagrant foul led to a brief scuffle with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree near midcourt with 13 minutes remaining and Michigan leading 52-24.

The Wildcats couldn't make any push in the second half, and fans hit the road early.

"They executed way better than we were prepared to play defense," Booth said.

Neither team looked like the two squads who met in San Antonio seven months ago.

Villanova lost four players who were drafted in the first 33 picks of the NBA draft. AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game — is with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Michigan lost three of its top four scorers. Moe Wagner, the star big man, was drafted by the Lakers in the first round and is playing in Germany. Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduated.

"They're a young team and they lost a lot of people," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "This is a November win. That's all it is. We have to learn from it, forget it and get ready for our next game."

Impressive freshman
Brazdeikis' teammates love his attitude and confidence on the floor.

"Iggy is like a mean pit bull," Simpson said.

The Finn
Bill Finneran, the Villanova alum who was the lead donor for the school's on-campus court that underwent a $65 million face-lift, was honored at halftime.

"The worst game you're going to see here," Finneran told the crowd.

Big picture
Michigan: Brazdeikis showed he can score against tough competition, performing well against top defender Paschall. Brazdeikis and Matthews give the Wolverines a formidable wing duo going forward.

Villanova: Showed its youth, giving Wright plenty of teaching points. The Wildcats relied on 3s the first two games, taking more shot attempts from beyond the arc than inside. They couldn't get them to fall from long range, going 3 for 15.

Up next
Michigan hosts George Washington on Saturday.

Villanova hosts Furman on Saturday.