Brian Urlacher will step to the podium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio this weekend and have an opportunity to put on an exclusive gold jacket, but at some point he will be talking about the blue in his life. Urlacher’s football beginnings were in the Land of Enchantment at Lovington High School.
“It’s almost unbelievable,” said Urlacher’s high school coach Speedy Faith. “There’s very few players in the Hall of Fame and for the community of Lovington to have one is special.”
Faith spent 25 years at Lovington High School, including those in which Urlacher suited up for the Wildcats. Urlacher was born in the state of Washington, but his mother moved to Loving-ton following a divorce. He wasn’t always the giant presence in the middle of the field ready to administer bone-crushing hits. As a high school junior, he was only 6’1”. Faith remembers the first time he came across the future Chicago Bears linebacker.
“I remember it very well,” he said. “I was the head football coach and our junior high school team was playing a game. I went over to catch the game and I saw a long pass to an ‘above average’ kid that went for a touchdown. Someone said, ‘That’s Brian Urlacher.’”
Little did they know they were watching a Hall of Famer in the making.
Urlacher made an impact offensively, eventually becoming an All-State receiver for the Wildcats. “He was a huge weapon for us offensively,” Faith recalls. In a preview of things to come at the collegiate level, Faith decided to find ways to get the ball in the hands of their standout any way possible.
Urlacher played both ways in high school. “Defensively, we played him in a strong safety position,” said Faith. “He had the speed for the secondary, but also strength of a linebacker.
“Urlacher also played on special teams, not because we needed it, but because he loved it.”
When asked if there was a moment the coach knew Urlacher was going to be something special, Faith points to a conversation he had with Brian’s mother.
“Brian was a junior. He was 6-1-and a half, 180 pounds. We were playing Portales in October. Brian’s on the kickoff team and he’s covering. It’s the very first play of the game and he’s in on the tackle, but there was a pile up and Brian broke his wrist. His mom took him to a specialist in Lubbock. It was going to be several weeks before Brian was back in action, they’d put a cast on it. Brian’s mom said the specialist felt like, because of his growth plates, Brian would probably grow another 3-4 inches. That’s when I thought if he grows that much, we’re going to have something special.”
And they did.
His senior year in 1995, Urlacher led the Wildcats to an undefeated season and state championship. He finished that year with 12 touchdown catches, six touchdown returns and two rushing scores. His signature moment coming in the state championship against Silver High School.
“It was a crucial moment in the game,” Faith recalls. “The (Silver) receiver was behind Brian a little bit. The pass went up and Brian leaped up (what appeared to be) at least 40 inches and snagged that thing out of the air. We went on to score to preserve the win.”
“We also had a game against Roswell that year. The game went into overtime. They scored first and kicked the extra point. Then we scored and lined up to kick, but ran a fake and got two points on a pass to Brian.”
As a senior, Urlacher wasn’t getting the kind of attention from colleges a future Hall of Famer would warrant. Texas Tech showed interest in the Lovington standout, but plans fell through.
“Where we’re located is not going to draw a lot of notice,” said Faith. “Brian attended the Texas Tech camp and he was on their radar. One of their coaches came to Loving-ton during basketball season. While he was in my office, he got a call from then-head coach Spike Dykes. Tech offered their last scholarship to a player from NMMI Junior College, so they didn’t have a scholarship. There was talk about walking-on at Tech, but Brian knew he deserved a scholarship.”
The University of New Mexico turned out to be Urlacher’s only scholarship offer. Tech’s loss was the Lobos’ gain.
With the Lobos, Urlacher went on to lead the nation in tackles, earn All-America honors and eventually became the number one pick of the Chicago Bears in 2000 (9thplayer drafted overall). His first year in the league, Urlacher was named the NFL Rookie of the Year. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and was selected to eight Pro Bowls. He played 13 years with the Bears, recording over 1,300 tackles and 41.5 sacks, helping the Bears reach the Super Bowl and paving the way to the Hall of Fame.
His high school coach will be there for the festivities in Canton. “As Brian was approaching the end of his career, we had conversations about the Hall of Fame. I brought it up. I said, ‘Brian when you’re inducted, I want you to keep me in mind for delivering your speech.’ I didn’t make the final cut, but that’s ok”. Urlacher’s former defensive coordinator with the Bears, Bob Babich, will introduce Brian.
Just like when Urlacher was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Faith is looking forward to being there to watch Brian join elite company. “It’s special,” said high school coach. “You can’t put into words what this means.”
Saturday Lovington High School sends one of its own into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.