How Eagles LB Haason Reddick went from Temple walk-on to NFL game-wrecker

PHILADELPHIA -- The question had zero to do with premier edge rusher Haason Reddick, but Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts couldn't help turning the focus toward him.

In the wake of Philadelphia's 31-7 throttling of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game Sunday, Hurts was asked about his own situational awareness in key moments and was in the midst of talking about football IQ and fundamentals when he pivoted.

"Haason Reddick, he's been a bad dude all year," Hurts said. "And that's what we need going forward."

It's hard to overstate the impact Reddick made against San Francisco. In the first half alone, he racked up two sacks, three pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The 49ers' fate was sealed midway through the first quarter when Reddick came flying off the edge and generated a strip sack by swatting at the arm of Brock Purdy, who suffered an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow on the play. It knocked Purdy out of the game and rendered him ineffective when he was forced to return following a Josh Johnson concussion.

"You don't ever want anybody to get dinged or get hurt, and I hope he's OK," said coach Nick Sirianni, "but it definitely did change the game."

Reddick finished the regular season with 16 sacks -- second to only his counterpart that day, Nick Bosa -- and was second in ESPN's pass rush win rate metric (28%) behind Micah Parsons (30%). His 18.5 sacks created led the league. Yet he was not named a finalist for defensive player of the year.

"Hey, s---," he said when asked about the snub. "I think my play said it today. That's all I need to say on that."

The respect Reddick, 28, has been hunting for not just all season but for his entire football life seemed to crash upon him as he stood in the center of the locker room postgame wearing NFC Champion gear and was engulfed by a swarm of reporters, drawing the biggest crowd in a room full of stars. Moments earlier, with green and white confetti falling from the sky and thousands of fans celebrating, the magnitude of the win began to sink in. Reddick, a local kid from Camden, New Jersey, had just helped punch his hometown team's ticket to the Super Bowl with an elite performance at Lincoln Financial Field -- the same stadium where he earned his football chops playing for Temple.

And now he was headed to the Super Bowl in Arizona, where his professional career began and his NFL dream nearly died.

"It's crazy, man. Just blessings on blessings on blessings," Reddick said. "I didn't see this coming, and now that it's here, I'm at a loss for words."

MOST NFL SUCCESS stories start with tales of dominating on the football field as kids, demonstrating ability that had coaches convinced big things were on the horizon.

Reddick's is not one of those stories.

When Reddick arrived at Haddon Heights High School, he was "just another skinny kid who's got some talent and athletic ability," according to the school's athletic trainer, Tim O'Donnell, adding that Reddick "didn't stand out" initially.

Reddick's junior and senior seasons were derailed by injuries. He was sidelined for his entire junior year with a growth plate fracture in his leg and missed the bulk of his senior year with a meniscus tear in his knee. Prospects of playing college ball looked bleak.

But Reddick's father, Raymond Matthew, was tight with a new member of Temple's coaching staff, Francis Brown, and reached out.

"They had to beg and basically say, 'Hey, can you make a spot for this kid?'" Haddon Heights coach Chris Lina said.

Reddick made the team as a walk-on and started his career as a defensive back before transitioning to edge rusher as he put on weight. Making inroads as a non-scholarship athlete proved challenging under Temple's head coach Steve Addazio. Addazio told Reddick after his freshman season that he wouldn't have a spot on the team moving forward, several people close to Reddick said.

But when Addazio left to become head coach at Boston College and Matt Rhule took over at Temple, Reddick was back on the team.

"Changed his life," Lina said.

Reddick went on to compile 17.5 sacks and 47 tackles for loss over four seasons at Temple. A strong senior year led to him being selected 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2017 NFL draft.

REDDICK FLOURISHED IN college as an outside rusher but was asked to play inside linebacker his first few seasons with the Cardinals. By the time the 2020 season rolled around, he was mentally exhausted.

All that's required of the inside linebacker position -- reading keys, watching for pulling guards, intense focus on alignment -- did not allow Reddick to play the kind of fast, instinctual style of football he naturally excelled at.

"I remember having a conversation with my dad before I was making the decision whether I wanted to go back to the edge or not," Reddick said in September. "I remember telling him I feel like if I don't do this, I feel like if I don't ask them to put me back, after this it's either no more football, no more NFL for me or I'll be just a special teamer."

Matthew's advice was to "leave all the cards on the table."

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Reddick approached Davis and then-defensive coordinator Vance Joseph about moving back outside. With all parties having nothing to lose, the position change was made. A Chandler Jones injury opened a window of opportunity and Reddick cashed in, racking up 12.5 sacks in 2020.

Still, Arizona didn't re-sign him.

"It was very disappointing that we didn't find a way to keep him," Arizona linebackers coach Billy Davis said. "As a coaching staff, we thought the world of him as a worker, as a teammate. I don't have a knock on Haason. I wish we still had him."

The Carolina Panthers inked Reddick to a one-year, $8 million deal that offseason and Reddick generated 11 sacks, but again found himself as a free agent at season's end.

The Eagles pounced, inking him to a three-year, $45 million deal in March, in hopes he'd be the missing piece to defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon's group -- and he has been.

Reddick has 19.5 sacks in 19 games, including the playoffs. Adding some weight over the offseason -- he's officially listed at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds -- added another dimension to his game, allowing him to "move guys out of my way at my will, whenever I wanted to."

Still, Reddick has rarely been mentioned among the top guys at his position. Those close to him surmise it's a product of initially being an inside linebacker, switching teams multiple times and playing in smaller markets prior to Philly.

"I'm not crying or begging for respect but it's got to be there," Reddick said following a Dec. 11 win over the New York Giants, when he reached double-digit sacks for a third straight season. "Three different teams, three different schemes, three different head coaches, three different [defensive coordinators]. What does that tell you?"

After the Defensive Player of the Year finalists were released, omitting him, Reddick tweeted: "At some point, this s--- gotta stop."

SIGNING WITH PHILADELPHIA was influenced by his desire to be closer to family. He wanted to come home, and there have been plenty of perks.

In October, he visited his old high school to deliver an inspirational message to the current players.

"I can tell the kids all the time about hard work and dedication and it doesn't matter. He came in and said the same stuff to the guys, but it was great coming from a guy wearing an Eagles shirt who sat in the same cafeteria you sat in," Lina said.

"Our kids are like, 'I'm bigger than him.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, he's way better than you are," Lina said with a laugh. "That guy is not blessed with being huge in size but he's got a drive in him that most people cannot find."

High crime rates can make Camden a dangerous place to grow up. To help keep Reddick out of harm's way when he was coming up, Matthew had him focus on football and working out.

"We would run a mile to the gym, would train and would walk back a mile," Matthew said. "It was a lot of conversation, just making sure he's seeing every scope of life. He was mature at an early age."

The tradition continues during the offseason, though they no longer run to the local training facility.

"The mile trip, we don't have to do that no more. That was a financial reason," he said with a laugh. "We didn't have it. Everything's changed now."

Reddick made his first Pro Bowl this season and was named second-team All-Pro. He's playing a lead role for one of the two best teams in the land, and will be playing in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium, where his career nearly fizzled out and was resurrected.

"I don't think the story could have been written any better," Reddick said.

Matthew was in attendance for the NFC Championship Game and got goosebumps thinking about how things have played out for his son.

"Everything is just full circle right now," Matthew said. "It just makes us a believer in everything. Hard work pays off. It does. The good guy finally won."