Brian Westbrook Shares the Lesson He Learned from Being Benched in High School
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
When he was benched for an entire season, Brian Westbrook learned a valuable lesson: perseverance.
Westbrook grew up in Ft. Washington, Maryland just outside of Washington D.C. He started playing football when he was around eight years old.
"I loved the game, and I knew I could play, or at least thought I could play," Westbrook said. "It was all new, and I remember not being very sure of how it was going to go and what was going to happen. But eventually the skill set kicks in and you’re OK."
Westbrook was always fast and coordinated — a combination that helped him become of the best players on his first Boys and Girls Club team.
"When you’re young, that’s all you need," he said. “It worked out well for me early on at the Boys and Girls Club. I was able to use my speed and agility to make it all make sense."
But when Westbrook reached DeMatha High School, it suddenly wasn't enough anymore.
"I was a great player at the Boys and Girls Club, but my freshman year at DeMatha, I didn’t play at all. I was on the team, but I never saw the field. I was on the freshman team and I played zero plays — not offense, not defense, not special teams.
"It was upsetting, but it helped to build that chip on my shoulder."
Westbrook spent the offseason getting stronger and faster and preparing for when his number would be called. He got his chance the next season, when the JV team's starting running back had to leave the team for academic reasons.
“I was prepared. I was ready. I was in the right place at the right time," he said. “If it wasn’t for that, who knows what would have happened."
Westbrook credits his coach, Bill McGregor, who was one of the NFL’s high school coaches of the year in 2004.
"I had a coach who understood the talent, understood where you needed to go and what you needed to do," Westbrook said.
Westbrook's high school footballl career was taking off. But after being named All-Conference as a junior, a torn ACL over the summer ended his senior season before it began. The big-time colleges and the scholarship offers disappeared, too.
Westbrook ended up choosing 1-AA Villanova over offers from Richmond and William & Mary. He returned with a vengeance for the Wildcats, putting up 9,512 all-purpose yards and scoring an incredible 84 touchdowns in 46 games. He also became the first college player to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Westbrook in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Westbrook started his career as a return specialist before becoming a Pro Bowl running back for the Eagles.
From 2004-08, Westbrook surpassed 1,200 total scrimmage yards in five straight campaigns. He finished his career with 71 total TDs. In 2004, he was a key cog in the team's run to Super Bowl XXXIX, which the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2007, and was a First Team All-Pro pick in 2007 after amassing 2,104 total yards and 12 TDs.
After eight seasons with the Eagles, and a final season with the San Francisco 49ers, Westbrook retired in 2010.
Currently, he does radio for the ESPN affiliate in Philadelphia and leads the Westbrook Foundation that helps empower youth in the community.
Westbrook also owns a horse farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, which he bought during his playing days.
"It was a stress reliever," Westbrook said. "I came down to Maryland to visit a good friend. We went on a trail ride, and it was one of the most peaceful things I had done in a very long time.
"Because of that, I said, 'I’m going to buy a horse farm.' Now, it’s a place to go and relax with the family and kids. We love it."
Photo: AP/Joe Robbins
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