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Upwardly Mobile
Jeffri Chadiha
May 08, 2000
Unheralded Brian Urlacher of New Mexico shot up in size and on the draft boards—and now he's in the middle of the Bears' defensive plans
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May 08, 2000

Upwardly Mobile

Unheralded Brian Urlacher of New Mexico shot up in size and on the draft boards—and now he's in the middle of the Bears' defensive plans

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Lovington, N.Mex. (pop. 9,322), is nestled in the southeast corner of the state, in an area that is populated with oil fields. It is where Urlacher grew to become the person he is.

His mother, Lavoyda, moved Brian, his older sister, Sheri, and his younger brother, Casey, to Lovington from Pasco, Wash., in 1986, shortly after divorcing Brian's father, Brad. Lavoyda, who picked Lovington because her parents lived there, was 25 and scared, but she was also a survivor. Brian vividly remembers his mom racing home between shifts at a laundry, a grocery store and a convenience store, changing uniforms while she counseled the kids on behaving for the babysitter.

When Lavoyda married Troy Lenard in 1992, Brian got an unassuming father figure and another role model who believed that hard work conquers all. "Brian didn't have much as a kid," says Brandon Ridenour, his best friend, "and his family lived paycheck to paycheck. Every role model he has ever had has been a hardworking type who puts family first, and he knows he's fortunate to have everything he gets."

As a sophomore at Lovington High, Urlacher didn't appear to have much of a future in football. He was a 5'9", 160-pound wide receiver with good speed and soft hands, but not much else. That's when assistant coach Jamie Quinones introduced Urlacher to the weight room. Over the next two years, while Brian enjoyed a growth spurt to almost 6'4", he bulked up to 214 and became an all-state receiver and defensive back, and led Lovington to the 3A state championship.

Pursued on the Division I-A level only by New Mexico and New Mexico State, Urlacher accepted a scholarship from the Lobos and then had an uneventful first two seasons as a backup linebacker. But when coach Rocky Long came on board in 1998, he implemented a system in which Urlacher could showcase his talents. As the defensive coordinator at Oregon State and UCLA, Long had employed an attacking style. The scheme, in which one player would roam the field and fly to the ball, called for the unit's best athlete to play that position. Long had coached current NFL safeties Reggie Tongue ( Kansas City) and Shaun Williams ( New York Giants), and he believed Urlacher was of that caliber.

Urlacher didn't disappoint Long. He racked up 178 tackles as a junior, then added 154 as a senior while also catching the six touchdown passes and averaging 15.8 yards per punt return for a team that finished 4-7. Though clearly the star, Urlacher did his best to downplay his role. He even flew back to Albuquerque during Senior Bowl week to attend the team's banquet.

"It was important to Brian these last couple of years for the focus to be on the New Mexico football team," says TCU assistant coach Mark Parks, Urlacher's position coach at New Mexico in 1996 and '97. "He fought hard for it not to become the Brian Urlacher Show."

In many ways Urlacher is still not eager to be in the limelight, and those close to him wonder if he will ever be at ease as an NFL star, should he reach that status. They say he won't forget where he came from and will always view himself as the underdog. Says Speedy Faith, Urlacher's high school coach, "Brian could have a Hall of Fame career and still wonder what he could've done better."

"I guess I haven't realized what's happening to me," Urlacher says. "If I play well on the next level, maybe I'll realize it then. But I really don't think I've done much. Getting drafted where I did was great, and I know I've come a long way from Lovington, but I also feel like I have a long way to go."

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