Haason Reddick was determined to be great. And if it wasn't in football, so be it.
In late November of 2012, Temple coach Steve Addazio cut the unremarkable freshman walk-on from his team, and Reddick returned home to Camden, New Jersey for winter break, both hurt and defiant.
In the ensuing weeks, he brainstormed different ways to make it big. Reddick's mom, RaeLakia, was intent on her son remaining in school to get his degree, but at the same time, knew he didn't want to settle for an everyday occupation.
"He was always going to have the education part, but he yearned for more," she said. "Something more stimulating and exciting. If it wasn't football, you'd be meeting him for some other reason."
There were two plans.
Reddick's dad, Raymond Matthew, took him to the boxing ring as a kid and Reddick took well to it, so he considered making that a career. Plus, after getting burned by a coach, Reddick liked the idea of failing or succeeding on his own.
"It's a one-man sport," he said. "Can't nobody tell me I can't do this. It's truly dependent on me."
Music was the other path. Former Temple assistant Francis Brown, a big brother-type to Reddick during his childhood and at college, heard some raps and actually thought Reddick was pretty good. RaeLakia was both a critic and a fan.
"He had his little notebook and was really writing his own rhymes," she said. "He'd say them to me and I'd be like, 'Ehh,' like a brutally honest mom. So I'm like, 'Maybe you can switch that, or don't put that in.' And then there were times when there were ones he didn't perform in front of me that I would sneak and read. And I'd be like, 'That's pretty good. He might be on to something.' But that's as far as we ever got. I think I was his main audience."
Neither career ever got off the ground, but for that, Reddick couldn't be happier. For nearly a month, he thought his football dream was extinguished, but Addazio then left for Boston College, and his fortunes changed.
"Me being who I am, I was focused on education, so (Haason getting cut) didn't really bother me," RaeLakia said. "Because I'm like, you're going to get a degree whether you're playing football or not. But it's his passion. He's been playing it since he was five years old. So I knew it meant a lot to him. He was hurt. You could see the disappointment or the worry in his face of, 'Where do I go from here? What happens next? I know my mama's saying I'm going to stay in school regardless, but as far as what I love to do, what happens?' And then along comes Matt Rhule and a second chance."
Rhule accepted the head coaching job at Temple on Dec. 17, 2012, and it didn't take long for Brown to seek him out. Then a graduate assistant for the Owls, Brown was also from Camden and knew Reddick all his life.
While Reddick's high school career was almost nonexistent because of injuries, Brown knew he had potential.
"He just didn't get an opportunity (from the prior staff)," said Brown, now an assistant under Rhule at Baylor. "That was kind of a letdown. I knew he was going to work hard."
So Reddick had his spot back – albeit still as a walk-on – and worked maniacally as a special teamer. Recruited as a cornerback, he was moved to linebacker and eventually began to see some snaps on defense. Reddick was then moved to defensive end, where he blossomed athletically, earning a scholarship after his junior year before becoming a star as a senior.
He finished 2016 with 65 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception. Brown has no recollection of any other player ever successfully moving from cornerback to defensive end, as Reddick somehow added bulk without losing his athleticism.
"Our end was faster than some of our corners," Brown said. "It would be like, 'Who do you want to put at gunner?' 'Put Haas back there.' He could have been our kick returner but we didn't want to get him hurt."
Reddick's stock skyrocketed during the pre-draft process as he compiled elite numbers at the combine and dominated the Senior Bowl. On Thursday night, the Cardinals capped his improbable college journey by making him the No. 13 overall selection in the draft.
"I knew he was an athlete," Brown said. "I knew he had a chance to be a good player. I never thought a first-round pick."
When Reddick was at Temple, his mom scraped together enough money each month to afford his room and board, but had to take out a loan to help with his other expenses. For RaeLakia, it wasn't a difficult decision.
"As hard as the struggles were, there were no other options," she said. "I had to do whatever was necessary so he wouldn't feel the stress of knowing his mother was financially burdened at home. We're just going to do it. We'll do it, and whatever happens, happens. We'll plan on paying the loans back later. But you're not leaving."
RaeLakia hoped Haason could help pay the loans back once he became a correctional officer, a lawyer, or whatever professional path he
"I wasn't thinking NFL," she said.
Once he was selected by the Cardinals in the first round, those worries were eliminated. After a whirlwind night in Philadelphia, where the crowd raucously cheered the choice of their hometown star, RaeLakia took a moment to discuss with her son his newfound wealth.
"I'm like, 'I don't want anything from you,'" RaeLakia said. "'Whatever you decide to do is fine. But can you please pay back the loans? That would be great.'"
Reddick plans to do more than that. Near the end of his introductory press conference on Friday afternoon, Reddick was asked about early plans for his multi-million dollar signing bonus.
"The first thing I want to do is buy a home for my mother," he said. "Just get her out of the neighborhood that I was born and raised in. I want to move her out of there. It's sunny (in Arizona) all year-round. I told her it was a beautiful place. I saw her looking out of the plane, 'oohing' and 'aahing' when we were landing."
RaeLakia Reddick sat in the front row and wiped a tear away from her eyes as her son spoke. He made something of himself, and as a football player, after all.
"It's mind-blowing for a mother," she said. "I don't think there's a word in the English language that can sum up how I really feel. But proud for sure."
First-round pick Haason Reddick comes to Arizona for the first time as a Cardinal