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'Dreams come true': Eagles' Haason Reddick changed his career path with help of family and hometown ties

EJ Smith, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Football

His athletic testing was good enough for him to become one of the quickest risers from the NFL scouting combine that year, and he went 13th overall to the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 with the plan to become an inside ‘backer.

This time, Reddick didn’t seem like a natural at a new position. He struggled early, and those struggles were amplified by the constant turnover on the Cardinals’ coaching staff. By 2019, Reddick was playing for his third head coach in as many seasons and was being labeled a bust by some.

Going into 2020, Reddick felt his NFL career hanging in the balance.

The Cardinals declined his fifth-year option after he’d started just five games in his third season. He was suddenly in a contract year with a fleeting chance to prove he belonged in the league.

“I thought that I could possibly either be done with football, I thought that maybe nobody would want me, or that I could have been on special teams,” Reddick said. “I could have been somebody that went from a first-round pick to just playing special teams.

“Those years were frustrating, man. I had a lot of expectations for myself, so I was dealing with the expectations from myself and the expectations from people in the building and the fans. It weighed down on me. Not only that, I was put in a position that I never played.”

Rewriting the story

After the 2019 season, Reddick called Robinson with some exciting news.

He was moving back to his old position and wanted his old coach to help him prepare.

The two Camden natives met at Texas A&M, where Robinson is the defensive line coach, for some offseason training.

Reddick knew what was at stake the next year: A chance to set his career back on track.

“Moving back to the edge, I knew that I had control over my own destiny,” Reddick said. “I knew I could rewrite the story and change the path that my career was going on.”

Robinson remembers Reddick having some extra juice during those training sessions, energized by the chance to return to what was most familiar to him.

“He had a chance to get back to what helped him become a first-rounder,” Robinson said. “He was no longer projected as a position, he was allowed to do what he did best. He was back to doing what made people fall in love with him when they put his Temple film on TV and watched him. They put him back in his natural habitat.”

Just like at Temple, Reddick’s move to the edge paid dividends in short order. He had 12.5 sacks in the 2020 season, including a five-sack game against the New York Giants in Week 14.

He hit the free-agency market the following offseason and signed a one-year, “prove-it” deal with the Carolina Panthers for $6 million, reuniting with Rhule. In 2021, he answered any questions about the sustainability of his pass-rush productivity with 11 sacks, including two against the Eagles.

Reddick still isn’t prototypical edge-rusher size. He was listed at 235 pounds for the last few seasons, about 30 pounds lighter than the average weight of an edge rusher according to mockdraftable.com, which compiles scouting combine data.

How does Reddick overcome being smaller in stature?

 

“He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever been around, pound-for-pound,” Robinson said. “He has a knack for getting to the quarterback. That’s the type of skill that was God-given. With his God-given talents and his work ethic, it allows him to be successful.”

During his introductory news conference, Reddick mentioned he’d bulked up to 242 and was entertaining getting up to around 250 depending on how the additional weight impacts his speed.

Although the strength helps, Reddick believes his success as a smaller rusher comes more from his approach than anything else.

“I don’t care who you put in front of me,” Reddick said. “It could be the biggest guy or the smallest guy, I’m going to treat you the same: You’re in my way. At the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get you out of it.”

Coming home

Reddick was eventually able to pay his mother back for the belief she had in him during his college years.

He got her a Mercedes-Benz for Mother’s Day in 2018 and bought her a new house in the area recently. This Mother’s Day, Haason and his sister surprised their mom with a reservation at a nice restaurant in Philadelphia.

They brought her flowers and a few presents, but there was one snafu.

“We missed the reservation,” Raelakia said, laughing. “The clock moves faster than I do, let’s just say that.”

They didn’t bother making another reservation. They just ordered takeout and stayed in.

“We just sat and we laughed, and we talked, and we ate,” Raelakia said. “We just talked about things we wouldn’t have been able to talk about in a crowded restaurant around a whole bunch of strangers, so it actually was perfect.”

Reddick said the chance to spend more time around his familial support system was a major factor in why he signed with the Eagles. He’s close with Raelakia, his father Raymond Matthew, and his seven siblings, and typically returned to Camden each offseason to spend time with them and train.

“They weren’t able to come out to as many games as I would have liked them to because of the distance,” Reddick said. “Being able to close that gap now ... it’s extremely wonderful.”

Reddick’s return to his hometown will also give him more chances to work in the community that helped shape him. A few days after he signed with the Eagles, Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen and other city representatives publicly welcomed him back to the city with a walkthrough of developing areas.

He had been presented with a key to the city in 2017 and has since donated to charitable foundations in the area, including a $15,000 donation of toys and holiday presents for local families last December.

“He has an opportunity now to spend a lot of time with the youth from Camden,” Robinson said. “They’ll be able to say, ‘I can be Haason one day. I have a chance to be successful one day.’ ”

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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