TUCSON, Ariz. — When Arizona coach Dick Tomey and then-assistant Marc Lunsford recruited 6-foot defensive end Tedy Bruschi out of the San Francisco area 20-plus years ago, they saw something special.
It was something other coaches couldn’t see: A determined young man, who cared about what he did and was willing to do whatever he could to be a sound and solid player.
He was just able to amplify it all — beyond anything imaginable.
“I just saw a great player and the fact that others didn’t see the same thing is crazy,” said Tomey in a telephone interview from Hawaii. “It’s not that we saw something that nobody else did, it’s that we valued greatly what we saw. We weren’t concerned with height.”
Tomey, long known for finding diamonds in thinly recruited players, valued work ethic and toughness. Bruschi epitomized it. He had just started the playing the game at age 14 (against the wishes of his mother), all the while still playing in the band.
“I didn’t have the size or physical abilities, but I played with heart and desire,” Bruschi said.
You can add smart and instinctive. He had a feel for the game many don’t have.
“Height is the most overrated quality in a young man,” Tomey said. “Neither he nor (Outland Trophy winner) Rob Waldrop had great height.”
Waldrop was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011, joining former UA players Ricky Hunley (1998) and Chuck Cecil (2009). With the help of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Football Foundation, Bruschi will join them later this year. He is in Tucson this weekend to be honored by the University of Arizona, where he was a unanimous first team All-American. More than 300 people attended a luncheon in his honor on Friday afternoon.
“There is nobody more deserving than you,” said former UA coach Jim Young, also a member of the College Hall of Fame, in a videotaped message. “I’ve never been around a player that was able to put total effort and desire into every play like you did when you were at UA.”
Now 40 years old and looking like he could step on campus and fit right in, he’s a respected in-studio analyst on all things NFL for ESPN after a 13-year NFL career and three Super Bowl championship as a linebacker with the New England Patriots.
“He’s very good at what he does, but he’s great with is family and Heidi (his wife),” Tomey said. “He’s an even better person than he was a player.”
Bruschi’s only major scholarship offers were from Brigham Young University, Washington State and Arizona. He visited Tucson on a recruiting trip in February.
“What were my expectations?” he asked. “I didn’t have any. It was like I was in high school. It was, ‘what do I gotta do today?’ to be a better player. I’d ask Coach Tomey, ‘what do I gotta do and I’ll go do it.”
It was that type of thinking that he carried through four years at Arizona, helping lead the famed defense “Desert Swarm” into college football lore by giving up just 32 yards rushing a game in 1993. Bruschi had 19 sacks that year as as Arizona went 10-2 and shut out Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Burschi said he considers his Hall of Fame induction a shared honor with his Desert Swarm teammates, because they were part of what he accomplished.
“It was never my goal to be in the College Football Hall of Fame,” he said, recalling the start of his college career. “I was just thinking to pass the conditioning test. That short-term focus helped me.”
That hasn’t changed. His primary focus is being a father and husband, putting aside any thoughts of coaching.
“I’ve seen coaches sleep in their offices,” he said. “And right now with a 12 (year-old), 11 (year-old) and 8 (year-old), I have the luxury of saying no. I know coaches have to grind like that. I worked hard for 13 years in the NFL to be able to get to the coaching profession on my terms.”