HOUSTON (AP) By the time D.J. Reader was 10 years old, he already had the body type he has today. And, he realized that if he kept playing football, his place would be on the defensive line.
It was then that Reader discovered a rookie nose tackle playing for the New England Patriots: Vince Wilfork .
Reader was drafted by the Houston Texans 12 years later and was thrilled at the opportunity to learn from the man who he began watching all those years ago.
''He was the best nose tackle in the league,'' Reader said. ''I was kind of chunky when I was a kid, so I knew I was going to be playing the D-line somewhere, so I just watched the best. Watched him all the time.''
Wilfork, now 35 and in his 13th NFL season, shook his head and laughed when told that Reader had been a fan of his since he was a child. The veteran said Reader never acted star-struck around him despite looking up to him for years before the pair met.
''No, he hasn't. He kept that to himself,'' Wilfork said. ''(Man) that makes me sound old ... (but) it's a mutual respect. It's good to feel like that. It's even better to give knowledge to the younger players, especially somebody that's in my position that I can actually really mentor because I've played it. I've done it.''
This season, Reader has blossomed under the tutelage of Wilfork and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. His natural talent was clear when the Texans selected him in the fifth round of this year's draft after a career at Clemson where he played in 46 games and had 145 career tackles. But it was also evident that the 6-foot-3, 335-pound Reader had a lot to learn when he first arrived in Houston.
''These young guys when they come in, they don't understand how the game is played or how to play the game,'' Crennel said. ''I think over this season, he's learned his abilities and how he can use his abilities in the game. I think he's playing better as a result of it. He's understanding the fits, what he can get done, when to come off the block and those kind of things. He's better as a result of it.''
After studying Wilfork for so long from afar, Reader wanted to make sure to take advantage of the chance to work with him.
The two became close quickly and spend hours together, not only at the stadium, but also in their free time.
''It's the best. It's like having an older brother who just knows everything,'' Reader said. ''He knows what's coming. When I'm out there on the field with him it's just so much fun because he loves the game and is passionate about it. I like being with him. He's a great mentor, a family man so a lot of good examples come out of him.''
Reader had been learning from Wilfork all season and had started seeing steady playing time when Wilfork was injured and forced to sit out in a game against the Jaguars on Nov. 13. It was then that Reader started in Wilfork's place. But instead of being nervous, Reader was determined to show his mentor that all his teaching had paid off.
''I was trying to do my best to step in and make him proud and do my job,'' Reader said.
And when Reader got his first career sack by taking down Blake Bortles for an 8-yard loss in the third quarter, he couldn't have been happier about what happened next.
''Vince was there, first one to congratulate me when I got my first sack,'' Reader said beaming.
While the Texans are impressed with how far Reader has come since they drafted him, everyone is eager to see how much better he can get if he keeps working as hard as he has so far.
''I want him to understand how good he can be because he can be a great football player and I think he will because he has the right mindset and he understands things and how things work,'' Wilfork said. ''He's a great professional, a great teammate. Anything the coaches ask of him, he doesn't hesitate.
''He's always trying to help the team, so I think he will be a good one in this league.''
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