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Brake, Howard Overcome Odds

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  • Brake, Howard Overcome Odds

    Monday, September 6, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    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.”

  • #2
    Re: Brake, Howard Overcome Odds

    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.
    If this is a fair comparison, our D-line should be in good shape.
    The more things change, the more they stay the same.


    Related Topics


    • RamDez
      Rams' Howard beats long odds to earn opening-day roster slot
      by RamDez
      Rams' Howard beats long odds to earn opening-day roster slot
      By Bill Coats
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Saturday, Sep. 11 2004

      On a day when the last thing Rams rookie Brian Howard wanted to hear was the
      chime of his telephone, bells kept ringing in his room last Sunday at the
      Sheraton Four Points hotel in Earth City.

      Each time, he feared the worst - a team official telling him that he was among
      the last cuts. But each time, it was his anxious mother, Sherri St. Hilaire.

      "She was bugging me all day, calling me about every 10 minutes," said Howard,
      who in exasperation finally ordered her to stop and to wait for him to phone
      her. "I called her back at 3."

      At that hour the roster had to be set at 53 players. And because Howard hadn't
      heard from the folks down the road at Rams Park, he knew that he'd beaten long
      odds and made the team. Howard, a 6-foot-4, 278-pound defensive tackle, is the
      only undrafted rookie signed by the Rams in the offseason still remaining on
      the active roster.

      "All through minicamps and training camp, it's obviously a worry and a stress
      on your mind pretty much all the time," said Howard, who is from Kent, Wash.
      "Now that it's finally here ... it's pretty incredible. It's something you've
      worked for and dreamed about your whole life."

      Howard, 23, didn't show up with glitzy credentials. He never was an All-Big Sky
      Conference selection while at Idaho. As a senior, he finished third on the team
      in tackles. He earned more repute as a high school rugby player, where he twice
      made the under-19 All-America team.

      In training camp at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., Howard's reps
      increased substantially after Jimmy Kennedy, the Rams' first-round draft pick a
      year ago, suffered a broken foot Aug. 5. Kennedy had surgery five days later
      and isn't expected back until late November.

      "That's obviously what you need, to get a shot and be able to make plays,"
      Howard said. "If you're not in, you can't make plays."

      Ultimately, Howard beat out eight-year NFL veteran Bernard Holsey to win his
      roster spot.

      Howard said defensive line coach Bill Kollar "told me when I first got here,
      'You have a shot to make this team.' But they have different people they bring
      in at different times ... when you're here, you've got to perform."

      Until he survived the last cut, Howard never had a concrete feeling about his

      "For some reason, I'd kind of go back and forth a lot," he said. "Sometimes I'd
      feel confident, and other days I'd just feel like I could be gone tomorrow."

      The Rams were impressed enough...
      -09-12-2004, 01:07 AM
    • RamWraith
      Howard feels bond with undrafted rookies
      by RamWraith
      By Bill Coats
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Wednesday, Aug. 10 2005

      That second-year defensive tackle Brian Howard acknowledges a particular
      affinity for Rams rookies Zach Bray, Jeremy Calahan, Jeremy Carter, Clifford
      Dukes, Vontrell Jamison, Dominique Thompson and Duvol Thompson should come as
      no surprise.

      The seven are undrafted free agents battling the odds during training camp in a
      long-shot attempt to win a spot on the 53-man roster. Howard is acutely
      familiar with their situation. "A year ago," he pointed out, "I was that guy."

      Howard showed up at Rams Park in April 2004 toting a slim resume. Not only had
      he never been selected to the All-Big Sky Conference team, he'd never even led
      his team in tackles in any of his four seasons at the University of Idaho.

      But his reps increased when fellow tackle Jimmy Kennedy broke his foot early in
      camp, and Howard impressed the coaches with his effort and passion. When the
      final roster was announced Sept. 5, Howard's name was on it.

      He wound up playing in 15 regular-season games - including one start - and both
      playoff contests, collecting a total of 25 tackles. He celebrated his season by
      having large, colorful tattoos applied to both upper arms, increasing his
      personal collection to five. "Look for some more" in the future, warned Howard,
      who arrived at camp this year a proven veteran instead of an obscure rookie.

      "It's a different feeling, but you're still never comfortable. There are no
      guarantees" in the NFL, said Howard, a 6-foot-4, 278-pound native of Seattle.
      "It's definitely a lot less stress coming into camp, but I'm still as hungry as
      I was last year - even more so."

      But not so preoccupied with his own duties that he can't find time to counsel
      the seven youngsters with whom he shares a bond of sorts.

      "I make sure to give them support, talk to them a lot," said Howard, 23.
      "Because I remember a year ago, it was nice for me to get tips from different
      guys on the team. So, as much as I can do, I'm going to try to help them out,

      Friday's game will be televised

      They needed a 24-hour extension of the deadline, but Rams officials said
      Wednesday that enough tickets had been sold so that Friday night's preseason
      game against the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome can be televised
      locally. It will be shown on KTVI (Channel 2) at 7 p.m.

      Normally, a sellout must be achieved 72 hours before kickoff for the blackout
      to be lifted.

      Anderson lands in Carolina

      It didn't take cornerback Dwight Anderson long to find work. Anderson, a...
      -08-11-2005, 04:29 AM
    • RamWraith
      Long shots make their mark with Rams
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Of the Post-Dispatch

      Long shots, like CB Dwight Anderson (above), are taking full advantage of their chance to try and make the Rams roster.
      (Chris Lee/P-D)

      MACOMB, Ill. - NFL players come in all shapes and sizes, and from all kinds of colleges. But whether you come from South Carolina, or South Dakota . . . Colorado, or Colorado School of Mines . . . Washington, or Eastern Washington . . . Arizona, or Akron . . . if you're good enough to get a chance, you just may get a job.

      With three exhibition games remaining, and cutdown days fast approaching, here's a look at four roster long shots trying to latch on with the Rams:

      CB Dwight Anderson: Traveling Jamaican

      Anderson didn't grow up dreaming of the NFL in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Heck, you couldn't even watch it on television.

      "It was either cricket, soccer, or track," he said.

      Anderson's sports were soccer and track - even after he moved to the United States in 1992 at age 11. But one day at Bloomfield (Conn.) High, he watched the football team practice and was intrigued.

      "I want to try that," he told himself.

      Not surprisingly, he was a kicker as a freshman.

      "Sophomore year, I started playing wide receiver and DB," Anderson said. "The (varsity) coach saw me playing JV, and he was like, 'All right, we're going to move you up. See what you can do up here on the varsity level.' And from there, it just exploded."

      Anderson, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., played junior college ball at Arizona Western in Yuma. He finished college with the South Dakota Coyotes, and now he's been to Macomb and St. Louis trying to make the Rams' roster as an undrafted rookie.

      "I've been going across the country," Anderson said. "I've almost done all 50 states now. I'm having fun with it."

      If the Rams keep five corners, he has a chance. If not . . .

      "I think I've got a chance," Anderson said. "If I just keep working hard, something's going to pay off. I'm not really thinking about getting cut."

      Anderson looks the part. He has 4.35 speed and doesn't seem overwhelmed on the field. What he needs is work on technique and focus. And no more silly penalties, like his costly holding penalty last week against Chicago.

      "It was an iffy call," Anderson said. "But you know the refs, they're cutting down on a lot of that holding."

      WR Brian Sump: Building a career

      With about a semester's worth of additional work at the Colorado School of Mines, Sump will earn his degree in civil engineering. He's in no hurry. Before he starts building dams and bridges, he'd like to build an NFL career.

      -08-20-2004, 05:12 AM
    • MauiRam
      Hay's Journey Just Beginning ..
      by MauiRam
      By Nick Wagoner

      At this weekend’s rookie minicamp, offensive lineman Michael Hay will be one of 39 bright-eyed youngsters hoping to make a strong first impression on the Rams’ coaching staff. The 38 others might want to be on the football field as much as Hay but none will need it more.

      Where the road diverges, Hay doesn’t see football as just a sport or an opportunity to play a game he loves. For him, it’s so much more.

      “This game saved my life,” Hay says with an air of absolute certainty.

      Like his rookie classmates, Hay loves football. The field represents a bit of a sanctuary, 100 yards of green solitude where the trials and tribulations of a bumpy past can be forgotten.

      Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse last week after starting every game at tackle for the Orange the past two years, Hay comes to the Rams with big dreams and every possible motivation to get his foot in the NFL door.

      It was only about five years ago that those dreams were almost dashed in an instant, gone with the swipe of a knife in a fistfight that spun wildly out of control. Hay had been stabbed in his chest, just below his left arm, cut through the rib cage and diaphragm, leaving a collapsed lung in its wake.

      As Hay was rushed to the hospital and headed to surgery, his thoughts turned quickly to the game he loves. With mother Maria and father Arthur in tow, Hay looked up at the attending surgeon and asked what the damage would be in terms of his football hopes.

      The answer wasn’t what he’d wanted to hear.

      “I had camp two weeks later and I told the surgeon that I have to be ready, I’ve got to get to camp,” Hay said. “He gave me a look, kind of smirked at me like ‘What is this kid thinking about right now?’ He told me ‘Honestly, I don’t know if you will ever play the game again.’ And I broke down in tears, looked at my mom and dad and said ‘I’m going to show him, I’m going to get back out there.’”

      Hay grew up in a supportive family in College Point, New York, an industrial part of Queens, with two working parents doing all they can to provide for the family. There, he learned the importance of hard work from his father who was a construction worker in the city.

      Bigger than most kids his age, Hay became a force on a very talented Holy Cross High football team in Flushing. At 6’5, 283 pounds, Hay was one of the top linemen on one of the best teams in the city. He drew plenty of interest to play at the college level but none from any major Division I schools as he’d hoped.

      Instead, Hay decided to attend Division II C.W. Post in Long Island. During the summer of 2007, between the end of his high school career and the start of his college career, what he calls an ongoing war of “he said, she said” began to boil over.

      “It was to a point where we confronted each other in person...
      -05-11-2012, 10:21 PM
    • r8rh8rmike
      Longshots Embrace Land Of Opportunity
      by r8rh8rmike
      Longshots Embrace Land of Opportunity
      Monday, September 7, 2009

      By Nick Wagoner
      Senior Writer

      In giving his early assessment of his Rams roster way back in the spring, coach Steve Spagnuolo repeatedly referred to the practice fields at the Russell Training Center as the “Land of Opportunity.”

      With little to no preconceived notions about any of the players on the roster, Spagnuolo and his staff came to those organized team activities and minicamp practices with an open mind and that carried on into training camp and the preseason.

      “Every position is an ongoing competition,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t mean to overstate what’s going on but it really is.”

      When the Rams announced the results of the competition from training camp and the preseason by declaring their 53-man roster on Saturday night, there were four Rams from various backgrounds who seized their opportunity.

      Perhaps more than the rest of their more experienced teammates, defensive end C.J. Ah You, guard Roger Allen III, tackle Eric Young and safety David Roach wasted no chance to impress the coaching staff.

      And for their efforts, that quartet landed spots on the team’s final roster regardless of the odds they faced in getting there.

      For each player, the path was different but it ultimately led to the same spot.


      Entering this year’s training camp; it’s safe to say that Ah You had placed a certain amount of expectation on himself.

      After spending the past year and a half on the Rams practice squad, Ah You found himself hoping for a shot to finally land on the active roster.

      Of course, that seemed a tall order considering that the Rams seemed to have a solid quartet at defensive end already in place in Leonard Little, James Hall, Chris Long and Victor Adeyanju.

      “I knew coming in I had my work cut out for me so all I could do is work on my game and do everything I can and hustle and work hard and hopefully the coaches like what they see and keep me around,” Ah You said.

      Ah You’s expectations perked up a little bit after the team hired Spagnuolo, though. From watching Spagnuolo’s defenses in New York the past two years, Ah You knew that the new head coach had a penchant for moving defensive linemen around and sending them out on the field in waves.

      That knowledge created hope that maybe the opportunity to land on the roster would be greater than it had previously been.

      “When he first got hired I saw the opportunity to maybe come inside and maybe (go) outside,” Ah You said. “I got a lot of work on that in training camp and now I’m here so it worked out.”

      Ah You performed well on the practice field but it was when the lights came on in the preseason contests that it started to click. Ah You...
      -09-09-2009, 02:25 PM