Not every NFL running back is adept at running the ball and catching passes.
That’s why those who do both well are considered a precious commodity to their teams.
For nine seasons, Brian Westbrook was one of the best dual-threat backs in the league.
His ability to not only run the ball but catch passes out of the backfield made him a nightmare to prepare for.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) October 20, 2015
A two-time Offensive Player of the Year in college, Westbrook was a third-round pick in 2002 by the Philadelphia Eagles.
By his third year, Westbrook averaged nearly five yards per carry and 10 yards per reception, and in 2007, he led the NFL in scrimmage yards.
That consistency was a big reason why the Eagles played in four NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl between 2002 and 2008.
Since retiring following the 2010 season, Westbrook has worn many hats including broadcaster, public speaker, philanthropist, author, and investor.
As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, the XFL hired Westbrook in 2022 as its Director of Player Engagement.
This is the story of Brian Westbrook.
Brian Collins Westbrook was born on September 2, 1979, in Fort Washington, Maryland.
Like most young boys his age, Westbrook loved football and he started playing the sport at a local Boys and Girls Club when he was eight years old.
“I loved the game, and I knew I could play, or at least thought I could play,” Westbrook said in 2022. “It was all new, and I remember not being very sure of how it was going to go and what was going to happen. But eventually, the skill set kicks in and you’re OK.”
Westbrook’s skill set kicked into overdrive and he became one of the best youth athletes in the city.
He continued to rule the gridiron until he reached DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.
As a freshman, Westbrook was humbled and realized he was not the bright star he thought he was.
“I was a great player at the Boys and Girls Club, but my freshman year at DeMatha, I didn’t play at all,” said Westbrook. “I was on the team, but I never saw the field. I was on the freshman team and I played zero plays — not offense, not defense, not special teams. It was upsetting, but it helped to build that chip on my shoulder.”
Westbrook’s demotion motivated him to come out strong as a sophomore.
When the starting junior varsity running back had to leave the team due to an academic issue, Westbrook was thrust into the starting lineup.
He was more than ready to take the mantle.
“I was prepared. I was ready. I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that, who knows what would have happened.”
Westbrook took advantage of the opportunity and spent the next three years making a name for himself.
During that time, he led the Stags to a pair of Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) titles while also being named All-County, All-Conference, and twice being selected as an honorable mention All-State.
— DeMatha Catholic High School (@DeMathaCatholic) February 13, 2013
Not confined to football, Westbrook was a letterman for the DeMatha basketball team including the 1996 squad that won a state title, and excelled in the classroom as a three-time member of the Honor Roll.
He was inducted into the DeMatha Hall of Fame in 2011.
Villanova Record Breaker
Westbrook had interest from a number of colleges and chose to take his talent to Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
It seemed like an odd choice as the university is known more for its basketball teams than for football.
However, head coach Andy Talley had consistently put together some good teams through the years including a group that went 12-1 in 1997.
That happened to be the same year that Westbrook arrived on campus, though he didn’t play much until 1998.
While the Wildcats stumbled to 6-5 in ‘98, Westbrook took up the challenge and nearly won every game by himself.
89 days until the 2023 #FCS season:
The FCS single-season record for the most receptions by a RB is Villanova’s Brian Westbrook with 89 receptions (1998)
Westbrook is the 1st player in CFB history to finish a season with 1K yards rushing (1,046) & receiving (1,144) pic.twitter.com/bkcLACAjTk
— FCS Football Central (@The__Bluebloods) May 29, 2023
He was a multi-purpose threat as a running back, receiver, and special teams ace and racked up 1,046 rushing yards and 1,144 receiving yards.
Westbrook’s totals made him the first NCAA football player at any level to break 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
Payton Award Winner
Between 1999 and 2001, Villanova went a combined 20-13 and Westbrook kept adding to the record books.
In 2001 alone, he single-handedly took down Hofstra by scoring five touchdowns and running through the defense for 287 yards.
Against James Madison, Westbrook exploded for 405 all-purpose yards and five scores.
Brian Westbrook Villanova my childhood favorite Eagles player pic.twitter.com/nFpxcEzoUm
— ANTI BS (@Imherefor4fun) April 25, 2023
By the time the smoke cleared on the Wildcats 8-3 season, Westbrook had tallied 2,823 combined yards and 29 touchdowns.
He was named the Walter Payton Award winner as the top player at the I-AA level.
Although Westbrook couldn’t help Villanova reach the postseason in the last four years of his collegiate career, his personal numbers and accolades were astounding.
He set an NCAA record with 9,512 all-purpose yards, was the only athlete in I-AA football history to score 160 or more points twice, and rushed for over 1,000 yards three times, the only Wildcats player to have managed the feat.
Additionally, Westbrook had totals of 4,298 rushing yards (at 6.2 yards per carry), snagged 219 passes for 2,582 yards, scored a whopping 84 touchdowns for 542 total points, and also returned kicks for 2,289 yards.
Brian Westbrook – Villanova pic.twitter.com/aX1Lmkj6CE
— Adam Gregory® (@CoachAGregory) June 7, 2022
He was the first Villanova player to be selected as a first-team All-American three times and Westbrook was also the Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year twice and a three-time first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection.
Having broken five NCAA, 13 conference, and 41 Villanova records, Westbrook was selected for the school’s Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 2016 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2023.
“One of the most versatile and tenacious players to ever set foot on the gridiron, Brian Westbrook did it all at Villanova, becoming the first player in college history, on any level, to finish with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a season,” said National Football Foundation’s President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “We are thrilled to honor him at Villanova Stadium as a member of the 2023 College Football Hall of Fame Class.”
“I learned so much at Villanova; how to catch the ball, how the run the ball, how to be an effective blocker,” said Westbrook in 2012.
Third Round Pick
The NFL stereotype for football players who excel at the I-AA level or lower has never been positive.
Westbrook may have set countless records and been recognized as the best player at the I-AA level, but pro teams were hardly impressed.
During the 2002 NFL Draft, a number of franchises passed on Westbrook based on the belief that his 5’10, 203-pound frame and small school accolades wouldn’t translate to the pros.
Thankfully, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid was different.
Drafted 2002/Round 3/Pick 91
2x Pro Bowler
2x All Pro
Eagles HOF member
Walter Peyton Award Winner pic.twitter.com/EEZuOhKRjJ
— Daily Eagles Fix (@DailyEaglesFix) August 27, 2016
The benefit of playing in the Eagles backyard at Villanova meant that Reid and his scouts were able to watch Westbrook play often.
Of course, even Philly let Westbrook drop a few rounds as the organization picked defensive back Lito Sheppard in the first round then more DBs in Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown in the second round.
Finally, with the 91st overall pick in the third round, the Eagles grabbed Westbrook.
He then watched most of his rookie season from the bench as Philly went 12-4 and lost in the NFC Championship game to the Tampa Bay Bucs.
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) August 6, 2020
Westbrook did have a memorable moment during the season when he completed a pass on a trick play against Dallas that went for a 25-yard touchdown to receiver Todd Pinkston.
Westbrook Sparks the Eagles
In 2003, Westbrook received more playing time and made himself part of Eagles lore during a Week 7 contest against the New York Giants.
The Eagles were losing a tight one, 10-7, and time was running out.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 9, 2022
Philly’s defense forced the Giants to punt and Westbrook fielded it then ran the ball through the New York coverage team 84 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a total team play,” Westbrook recalled in 2012. “Guys rushed the punter; made him kick a bad kick. One of the best punters in the league, they made him just kick a bad ball and I was able to catch the ball off the hop. It was actually 10 guys, and it’s rare that this happens; it was 10 guys blocking. I made a couple people miss here and there, but 10 guys blocking.”
The victory sparked a nine-game win streak for the Eagles that helped the team return to the postseason.
Westbrook’s score was one of 13 touchdowns he had in ‘03 that included seven rushing, four receiving, and an NFL-leading two punt return scores.
Unfortunately, during the final game of the season against Washington, Westbrook tore his triceps.
The injury prevented him from helping the Eagles get past the Carolina Panthers in the NFC title game.
The Eagles Reach the Super Bowl
Westbrook was named Philadelphia’s starting running back before the 2004 season and he proceeded to put on a show.
In addition to rushing for 812 yards and three touchdowns, Westbrook also caught 73 passes from quarterback Donovan McNabb for 703 yards and six scores.
He was selected for his first Pro Bowl after the year.
36 days until Eagles football.
Brian Westbrook was so fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/dqt9avae3W
— Word On The Birds (@WordOnTheBirds) August 5, 2023
Meanwhile, the Eagles were loaded with Westbrook, McNabb, receiver Terrell Owens, and a brutal defense.
Philly won 13 games for the first time in franchise history and beat Minnesota and Atlanta in the playoffs (with Westbrook contributing 252 yards and a touchdown combined) for the right to return to their first Super Bowl since 1980.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Eagles and New England Patriots traded points throughout Super Bowl XXXIX.
Westbrook was all over the field as a runner, receiver, and punt returner and even scored on a 10-yard grab from McNabb in the third quarter.
Ultimately, Philly came up short as the Pats won their third title in four years, 24-21.
Westbrook ended the day with 44 rushing yards and seven catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
2006 & 2007
In 2005, the Eagles suffered from the injury bug that felled several players and led to a 6-10 record.
Westbrook was one of the fallen as a foot injury kept him out of the final month.
However, he still had 1,233 total yards and seven touchdowns for the year.
For the most part, the Eagles’ injuries healed in time for 2006, except for McNabb getting knocked out for the season in a November game against Tennessee.
Westbrook and backup quarterback Jeff Garcia rallied the team to a 10-6 finish and a divisional-round loss to Seattle.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 22, 2017
Along the way, Westbrook rushed for 1,217 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 77 passes (team-high) for 699 yards and four more touchdowns.
Remarkably, given the talented running backs the Eagles have had through the years, Westbrook became the first back since the Wilbert Montgomery era to record three straight 100-yard rushing days after a November game against the Colts.
Then, in 2007 as Philly sunk to 8-8, Westbrook had a career-high 1,333 rushing yards and seven scores to go with a whopping 90 receptions (also a career-high and franchise-best) for 771 yards and five touchdowns.
His 2,104 total scrimmage yards led the NFL and brought Westbrook his second Pro Bowl selection along with a first-team All-Pro nod.
Beginning of the End
Westbrook parlayed his 2006 and 2007 numbers into a five-year extension with the Eagles worth $32 million in the summer before 2008.
He then reached a milestone in Week 2 when he had three total touchdowns in a loss against Dallas that gave Westbrook 30 rushing scores and 25 reception touchdowns in his career.
That made him just the seventh player in NFL history to reach such career marks.
By the end of the season, Westbrook had 936 rushing yards and a career-high nine rushing touchdowns to pair with 54 receptions for 402 yards and five more touchdowns.
The Eagles went 9-6-1 and made the playoffs as a Wild Card then marched through the Vikings and Giants on the road before losing to Arizona in the NFC Championship game.
The last time the Eagles won a playoff game (2008), Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook were running the show pic.twitter.com/NTz2Uog4Ms
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 12, 2015
In 2009, Westbrook was limited to only seven starts after missing time due to two concussions he sustained.
After netting just 455 total yards and two touchdowns, Westbrook was released by the Eagles in March of 2010.
San Francisco and Retirement
Five months later, Westbrook was signed by the San Francisco 49ers.
He appeared in 14 games and had five starts for 490 combined yards and five touchdowns as the Niners went 6-10.
Alex Smith throws a short pass to RB Brian Westbrook, who takes it to the house.
Throwback 2010 Week 14 Seahawks @ 49ers pic.twitter.com/oVQAFWJKy2
— 49ers Throwback ❤💛 (@49ers_Throwback) January 12, 2023
When the season ended, Westbrook signed a one-day contract with Philadelphia and retired as an Eagle.
During his career, Westbrook had 6,335 rushing yards, 41 rushing touchdowns, 442 receptions for 3,940 yards, and 30 receiving touchdowns.
He also had 498 punt return yards and two return scores and 487 kick return yards along with two pass attempts, one completion, and one touchdown pass.
Westbrook was a two-time Pro Bowl pick and a first-team All-Pro once and is currently the franchise leader in total yards from scrimmage with 9,785.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 20, 2015
Since retiring, he has been placed in the Eagles Hall of Fame and was selected as a member of Philadelphia’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Busy Life in Retirement
Since retiring as a player, Westbrook has had his hands in a number of ventures.
For many years, he has been a member of the media as a radio and television analyst and has appeared on Comcast Sportsnet Network, CSN Philly, and First Things First on Fox Sports 1.
When he’s not on television or the radio, Westbrook spends his time as a public speaker, an investor with SeventySix Capital Athlete Venture Group, and in philanthropy with his Brian Westbrook Foundation.
“The reason why we started the foundation, my wife and I, is because we wanted to help give back to our youth, in this area. This DMV area is so important to us. It was able to help raise me, my brother, my family, my friends, and so we wanted to make sure that this area is empowered,” said Westbrook in 2022.
He also wrote a children’s book in 2022 called The Mouse Who Played Football.
Right now @TempleUnivPress is hosting former Eagles player Brian Westbrook for a book signing.
If you can’t make that though, I had the chance to talk about his new children’s book for Delaware County Magazine! So keep an eye out for the January issue pic.twitter.com/RfF5xmUWbc
— Brianna Mac Kay (@brimackay15) December 10, 2022
In August of 2022, the XFL hired Westbrook as its Director of Player Engagement.
“Brian is an incredibly important hire for the XFL as he will be a key driver behind the League’s commitment to holistic player development,” said Russ Brandon, President. “Following his impressive career in the NFL, Brian has done a phenomenal job building his brand while also committing himself to help other athletes reach their maximum potential on and off the field.”