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Thread: Brake, Howard Overcome Odds
Brake, Howard Overcome Odds
Monday, September 6, 2004
By Nick Wagoner
It was probably the most agonizing day of their young lives, certainly of their infant careers. When most people apply for jobs, they sit idly by the phone, waiting for it to ring with good news from the other end. That is nerve-racking enough, but it could be worse.
What if you’re future employment was determined by the phone not ringing? The Labor Day weekend was no holiday for many Rams, as they hoped and prayed that their phone wouldn’t make a peep. Longshots dreamt of becoming the next Cinderella story, while some grizzled veterans hardened themselves for the possibility of bad news.
A pair of young, unknown and undrafted players sat in the Four Points Sheraton, a stone’s throw from Rams Park, as phones rang in their neighbors’ rooms, telling others their dream became a nightmare. When 3 p.m. rolled around, Mike Brake and Brian Howard hadn’t received phone calls, not from anyone with the power to tell them they couldn’t play, anyway.
“You don’t want that phone to ring,” Howard said. “It was hard those last couple days to just sit in your hotel room, hopefully not hearing the phone ring. It’s kind of an interesting deal.”
It wasn’t long after 3 p.m., however, before the two put their phones to use. This time, they would be the bearer of the news, all good. As their families sat in their respective homes awaiting word, they knew could be two calls away from disappointment or one call away from sheer joy. For the Howard and Brake families, it was the latter.
The long and winding road to the National Football League can take a young player in a number of directions. For Brake, that road went through the University of Akron and Howard’s path led him through the University of Idaho. Neither school was exactly Miami or USC. The two unheralded players didn’t let their lack of football pedigree push them away from their dreams, though.
Brake, a tight end, signed with the Rams on April 30, not long after the NFL Draft, but long enough to start worrying about where he might end up. His numbers for the Zips were nothing to crow about, as he finished with 49 catches for 736 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 256 pounds, Brake has good size for a tight end, but size doesn’t mean much without opportunity.
During the summer, Brake became frustrated because he got few opportunities to make an impression on the coaching staff. A lack of repetitions left Brake wondering where he stood entering training camp. The whole experience was new to Brake. He knew he had the talent to play, but he had no chances to prove it.
“I knew I could do the stuff that some of the guys that were getting reps were doing,” Brake said. “There were so many questions in my head. I got in there and got my chance and it’s a lot of hard work. It’s paying off right now.”
When second-stringer Cameron Cleeland had hamstring injuries during camp, Brake finally got his chance. He took full advantage, having a series of solid practices where he seemed to catch most everything near him.
Brake didn’t have any standout performances in the preseason games, making one catch for 24 yards, but with the release of Nick Burley on Aug. 28, left Brake as the third tight end on the roster. That gave Brake confidence and when the team didn’t bring in another one before the end of the preseason, it started to become clear that Brake had a realistic chance.
As the deadline came and went to make the final cuts, Brake was finally ready to put his phone to use. After resisting urges to pull the phone out of the wall so nobody could reach him, he picked it up immediately and called Lindsay Jenkins, his fiancé, and then his parents in Ohio.
Brake said it was a relief to use his phone for good news.
“If they don’t call you, I assume I make the team,” Brake said. “It’s kind of weird, you don’t hear from anybody so you kind of know you’re good. You’re just checking the watch.”
Howard, meanwhile, had plenty of concerns while waiting by the phone. His problem was his phone wouldn’t stop ringing. With each shrill chime, Howard wondered who would be on the other end. Instead of general manager Charlie Armey or another Rams’ official, it was always his mom Sherrie from central Washington. Howard estimates she called him every 10 minutes or so until the deadline. Finally, when the time came and went, Howard was able to break the good news to Sherrie.
Howard said the realization set in that he made it soon after the deadline and he is just now beginning to fathom what happened.
“Sometimes I felt confident (I could make it) and other days like I could be gone tomorrow, so it was pretty wishy-washy,” Howard said. “It’s pretty incredible. It’s something you’ve worked for and dreamed about your whole life. Now, it’s finally here.”
Howard’s time as a Vandal in Idaho yielded solid numbers. He finished with 183 tackles, 29 for loss and 10 sacks. Born and raised in Washington, Howard provides the Rams with a blue-collar worker in the middle of the defensive line along the lines of Brian Young and Jeff Zgonina.
Tyoka Jackson remembers what it was like to be in Howard and Brake’s shoes. He signed with Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in 1994. Now, 10 years later, he is not only on the roster, but team captain and a part of the heart and soul for the defending NFC Western Division champions.
Jackson had some advice for his young protégé.
I saw him yesterday and he was excited and I was excited for him,” Jackson said. “I do like to see the young guys succeed, especially a guy like Brian Howard, who worked so hard coming in unheralded and undrafted just like myself and he has got a chance to really be a good player.
“He has to understand that just making the team, that’s not over. The journey is just now starting and things change on this roster every week. This is not college where you have got 100 guys on the team, either you’re going to play or you’re one bad snap away from playing. That’s just the way it is.”
Re: Brake, Howard Overcome OddsHoward provides the Rams with a blue-collar worker in the middle of the defensive line along the lines of Brian Young and Jeff Zgonina.
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