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Tim Layden
August 16, 1999
A quarterback from Texas is marked for greatness and leading a turnaround at, of all places, Purdue
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August 16, 1999

6 Drew Brees: About Face

A quarterback from Texas is marked for greatness and leading a turnaround at, of all places, Purdue

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Bob McQueen, longtime coach at Temple High, near Waco, Texas, has known Akins for four decades but until recently was unaware that Akins and Brees were related. "You tell me that Drew Brees is Ray Akins's grandson, that tells me a lot about why he's such a solid young man," says McQueen.

Akins wasn't the only one who influenced Brees's athletic development. Chip played hours of weekend catch with Drew. Mina introduced Drew to tennis, and he became one of the best junior players in Texas, attaining a No. 3 ranking in the USTA's age-12 group before drifting away from the game at 13. Mina, 49, a singles player for Austin city championship teams in 1995 and '96, still competes ferociously with her son. "He beats me occasionally," she says.

Once Chip and Mina, both lawyers, were divorced, they became "joint managing conservators" for Drew and Reid. The boys slept half their nights at Mina's house and half at Chip's. The arrangement was—and sometimes still is—delicate, but Drew has seen worse. "I've had teammates with horrible divorces," he says. "My parents get along."

Brees wasn't a football prodigy. He didn't wear pads until he was in ninth grade at Westlake High and then played only on the B freshman team. One year later he ascended to backup quarterback on the junior varsity and then jumped to first string just before the season when the starter got Wally Pipped by a knee injury. He started two years for the varsity and went 28-0-1; as a senior he led Westlake to the Class 5A big school championship and won the 5A offensive MVP award. He threw for 5,416 yards and 50 touchdowns during those last two seasons.

It seemed a lock that Brees would be sought by the most storied college programs in the state, those of Texas and Texas A&M. He wasn't. Perhaps it was because he tore the ACL in his left knee in the penultimate game of his junior season and thus wasn't at full strength for summer camps. Perhaps it was because he was only 6'1" or because his release was too slow.

"Believe me, we told them he was the most accurate passer we'd ever seen, that he was a great leader and a tough kid," says Neal Lahue, Brees's offensive coordinator at Westlake High and now the coach at Tivy High in Kerrville, Texas. "Nobody listened."

Texas didn't recruit him at all. "One form letter in my junior year," says Brees. Texas A&M, which he loved, pursued Brees just enough to leave scars. Chip and Mina had taken him to their alma mater-together and separately—when he was young. He knew the distinctive yells and chants that make College Station one of the most alluring game-day towns in the country. "If A&M had offered me a scholarship, I would have gone there in a minute," says Brees.

What the Aggies did, to Brees's recollection, was unforgivable. According to Brees, A&M assistant Shawn Slocum, son of coach R.C. Slocum, contacted Brees in November of his senior season and took him to lunch with Westlake High teammate Seth McKinney, who had already been recruited by A&M and is now the Aggies' starting center. Brees says Shawn arranged for him to make an official visit on the fourth weekend in January. Shawn, who's now an assistant at Southern Cal, says no visit was arranged.

Two weeks before he thought he was to visit A&M, Brees called Shawn to firm up the date. "As soon as I mentioned the visit, Slocum said, 'Hey, Drew, I've got an important call on the other line. Can I call you right back?' That's the last I heard from A&M. They just blew me off."

Shawn says, "I don't remember all the details of that phone call." The Aggies were chasing quarterback Major Applewhite of Baton Rouge but lost him to Texas. They did sign Matt Schobel, a 6'4", 230-pound quarterback from Columbus, Texas, with speed and classic form, but he never played a down for A&M and transferred to TCU after his freshman season. "I hope there are no hard feelings," Shawn says. "Looking back on it, of the three kids we were after, it's safe to say the guy who went to Purdue turned out to be the best of the bunch. He's a winner."

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