Brent Celek grew up in Cincinnati, played high school football in Cincinnati, played college football in Cincinnati and dreamed of playing NFL football in Cincinnati.
As the Bengals made their picks in the 2007 draft, Celek gradually realized that was not going to happen.
Cornerback Leon Hall in the first round. Running back Kenny Irons in the second. Safety Marvin White in the fourth. Quarterback Jeff Rowe in the fifth.
Hall is still with the Bengals, but Irons never played an NFL snap. White lasted only two years with the Bengals and was out of the league by 2010. Rowe never threw an NFL pass.
“I come from Cincinnati, I grew up in Cincinnati, I went to college there, and the Bengals had multiple chances to draft me, and they didn’t do it,” Celek said.
“Philly took a chance on me, and my whole goal in life was to never let them down.”
Eleven picks after the Bengals drafted Rowe, the Eagles selected Celek. And a decade later, he’s still going strong.
Celek is entering his 10th year with the Eagles, the longest tenure in franchise history by a tight end. If he plays in all 16 games – and he’s missed only one in his career – he’ll move into seventh place in Eagles history in games played, behind only former teammates David Akers, Brian Dawkins and Tra Thomas, current teammate Jon Dorenbos and Harold Carmichael and Chuck Bednarik.
One thing that virtually all great Eagles of the last 30 years have in common is that they finished their career somewhere else.
Akers went to the 49ers and Lions. Dawk bolted to Denver. Tra went to Jacksonville. Donovan went to the Redskins and Vikings. Runyan played a few games with the Chargers. Lito finished with the Jets, Vikings and Raiders, and Sheldon went to the Browns.
You name the player. Reggie, Clyde, Seth, Eric Allen, Randall.
Shady, DeSean, Maclin, Trent and Herremans.
Not one of them finished where they started.
The last player to spend 10 or more years with the Eagles and never spend a day with another team is Jerry Sisemore, who spent the 1973 through 1984 seasons in Philly.
More than 30 years ago.
Celek hopes to end that. He plans to end that. He signed a two-year contract extension this offseason at $4 million per year, and that runs through 2018.
By then he’ll be about to celebrate his 34th birthday and he’ll be a 12-year vet.
And unless there are dramatic changes in the front office and in Celek’s level of play – which is still very high – he will never play for another team.
“With how this organization has taken care of me, with how this city has taken care of me, I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said after practice Monday.
“This is my home now. I’m not going back to Cincinnati. I love it for what it’s done for me in my life, but this is my home now, and I don’t want to play for any other team.
“I think guys that have committed to make one place their home, there’s no point in going to another town and playing for somebody when your heart is here.”
Celek entered the league in 2007 as a receiving tight end who was OK on the line of scrimmage.
He played behind L.J. Smith his first two years but during the five-year stretch from 2009 through 2013, Celek was one of the NFL’s finest receiving tight ends. Only Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham had more receiving yards than Celek’s 3,479 from 2009 through 2013.
With Zach Ertz blossoming in 2014, Celek began focusing more on blocking, while still able to explode for big games – 116 yards against the Panthers in 2014, 134 yards against Dolphins last year.
Along the way, he’s become one of the best two-way tight ends in the NFL in the past generation. And an inspirational leader on the only team he’s ever played for.
“Brent’s a beast,” said long snapper Jon Dorenbos, the only player who’s been on the roster longer than Celek. “Sometimes vets, they kind of pull back a little bit? Celek’s full-go all the time. He’s the kind of guy where when there’s a spot on special teams, he’s always the first guy to jump up and say, ‘I got this one.’ That’s just how he is.
“And for rookies to be around him all the time, and for rookies to see his mentality, to see the way he works, to see what he’s like in meetings, to see that he’ll do whatever it takes to win? That’s huge.
“You watch him at the end of a two-hour practice, Celek’s going faster than anybody else. That’s a 10-year vet taking hits. And we’ve all seen him take hits. He bounces back up. It’s an honor to say he’s been a teammate for 10 years.”
It’s remarkable that Celek has been able to hold up physically over the past decade.
He plays the game in a reckless fashion that certainly wins fans over but also puts him at tremendous risk. Yet he’s played in 143 of 144 games since 2007, and among NFL tight ends only Jason Witten has played in all 144 over the past nine years.
“The way he comes out every day and goes 100 percent? Man, this is Year 3 for me and some practices are tough for me to get ready for, but he comes out every single day, ready to go,” tight end Trey Burton said.
“He’s an ultimate leader and definitely somebody I would hope to model my game around. Never takes a day off. I’m sure there’s days where he’s like, ‘Man, I don’t want to do this,’ but you never see it.”
Celek said he’s had to make major changes in his lifestyle as he’s gotten older to be able to not just stay in the NFL but to stay healthy and productive.
He has a rigorous offseason regimen that includes lots of core body work, stretching and Pilates.
“I would say once I hit six or seven years in, that’s when I was really was like, ‘All right man, I need to change a lot of habits, I need to start taking care of my body more, I need to eat a little bit better,’ he said.
“A lot of those little things that you don’t think about when you’re younger. You can eat whatever the hell you want and you still weigh the same thing. A lot of those little things I really had to start focusing on.”
Celek has been around so long he’s actually experienced postseason success, something that’s eluded the Eagles for seven straight years.
He had only 496 receiving yards his first two NFL seasons, but he really put himself on the map in the 2008 playoffs, when he caught 19 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns in wins over the Vikings and Giants and the NFC Championship Game loss to the Cards.
In NFL history, only two tight ends -- Dan Ross of the Bengals (22 in 1981) and Dallas Clark of the Colts (21 in 2006) -- have had more catches in a single postseason.
All of this puts Celek in a unique position.
He’s the only position player on the team that’s walked off the field after a postseason win in an Eagles uniform.
It’s a position he takes seriously.
“You can tell (the young guys), ‘Listen, when we’re winning, this city is crazy. They love everything about it, the energy around it. You’re not going to want to leave this place.’
“It gets them excited for what’s to come, and we need to get back there. We’ve got to win. That’s all this city wants. Whatever it takes to get these guys ready to help us win is what we’ve got to do.”
OK, let’s talk numbers.
Celek won’t, but we can.
Going into the 2016 season, Celek is fifth in Eagles history with 371 receptions, just two behind Hall of Famer Pete Pihos. He’s 10th with 4,713 yards but within 60 yards of eighth place.
He’s one of only 13 tight ends in NFL history with 370 catches, 4,700 yards, 30 or more TDs and at least a 12.5 average.
He’s the greatest tight end in Eagles history, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
“All of that will mean a little bit to me when I’m done playing, but right now, I’m focused on today, the rest of the day, tomorrow,” he said.
“To think about that stuff … I don’t really focus on it. I’ve got too much other stuff going on. But when I’m sitting on the porch one day with my wife, I’ll think about it and realize that it was a good run. We need to make it great and win a Super Bowl.”
Celek won't even speculate how much longer he can play or how much longer he wants to play.
Right now, leaving is not even on his radar.
Why would it be?
“He loves this game,” Dorenbos said. “Loves his teammates and loves playing for this organization. And I think to be around a guy like that who takes pride every single day in his work, that’s awesome.
“The young and the old and the front office and the coaches and the fans. Everybody. There’s certain guys that have a certain energy about them and you just want to be around them. You want to play with them on Sunday.
“All the stuff Brent does in games, he does that every day in practice. So you know what you’re going to get on Sunday. So when he makes big plays or he takes a huge hit across the middle and then the next play he hurdles Ed Reed? Are you really shocked?
“That’s what he does every day. That’s who he is. It’s in his blood.”