If not for his friends, there’s no telling where Eric Braswell might be today.
But the University of Houston defensive line definitely would not have been his first guess when he was a sophomore at Shoemaker.
“I just never saw myself playing football,” said the 6-foot-5, 268-pound redshirt sophomore. “When I was younger, I used to play basketball. ... Somewhere between eighth grade and ninth grade, I just started to like football.”
Braswell credits his friends, who’d come over asking if he wanted to play all the time. Back then, it was a backyard game with quarterbacks and receivers.
At Shoemaker, it took on a life of its own for Braswell, but even he admitted he was soft as a ninth-grader, who was just starting to pick up the sport.
There has been little doubt, though, that he’s a natural.
“My freshman year in high school, I’m not going to lie, I would call myself soft now that I look back at it,” Braswell said. “I didn’t really know how to play the game of football, so I wasn’t really too good at it. Coming into college, I was a lot better. I was coming off my senior year season and I knew how to play it, I knew how to take on blocks, I knew how to pass rush. I was much, much better than my freshman year.”
Four years after picking up the sport as a not-so-little boy, Braswell earned Conference U.S.A. all-freshman team honors in 2011 after starting 11 games at defensive end and playing in all 14 games last season for the Cougars.
In the offseason, Braswell moved to the 3-technique defensive tackle position, where he played at Shoemaker as a junior and senior, and has both of the Cougars’ quarterback hurries this season to go along with a pair of tackles.
“You know, I’d like to learn to play every position along the line, so I would never have to come off the field,” Braswell told the Houston athletics website.
He totalled 47 tackles — 19 solo — and 3.5 tackles for a loss as a redshirt freshman last year, his first playing time since suffering an injury midway through his senior season at Shoemaker in 2009.
After his redshirt season in 2010, which allowed him to learn the Cougars’ defense and the speed of college football, Braswell had his best performance of the season in last year’s opener against UCLA, which hosts the Cougars on Saturday.
“Words really can’t describe it. It was a great feeling. It had been a year and a half since I had been on the field,” Braswell said. “My first game against UCLA, I didn’t get in until around the third or fourth quarter and I definitely had to get used to the speed.”
He earned his first start against Georgia State and became a reliable fixture along the line in an improving Cougar defense.
“I went in there and then I started and it all came back to me, just like in high school when I was starting,” Braswell said. “It was just a game and I had to get used to it.”
Braswell and the Cougars are going through another change as new head coach Tom Levine transitions Houston (0-2) out the Kevin Sumlin and Case Keenum of era.
Keenum, the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards, completions and touchdowns, was signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie free agent and Sumlin was named the head coach at Texas A&M after the Cougars’ 13-1 season in 2011.
So from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, Braswell is one of four returning starters on defense for Houston, which enters its final season in Conference U.S.A. before joining the Big East in 2013.
Despite all the changes, it’s still football for Braswell, something a few years ago, he only watched on television.
“At no point in my freshman and sophomore year (of high school) did I even think about going to college and playing college football. I used to watch these teams on TV and I used think these people were big stars and celebrities and now I’m here,” Braswell said. “So now I look at myself and it’s amazing.”