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," CSNPhilly.com 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.