Brian Westbrook, former RB of the Eagles and Villanova, co-wrote a children’s book

Before Brian Westbrook became a star running back with the Eagles or breaking records at Villanova, he was told he was too short to play professional football.

“Unfortunately in sports, there’s often a disadvantage because of your height,” Westbrook said. “Coaches, scouts and people who judge you put you in a box and think that you can only be like that because of your size.”

Westbrook spent nine seasons in the NFL – eight with the Eagles and one with the San Francisco 49ers. Initially, teams in the 2002 NFL draft were reluctant to pick Westbrook, starting with his height of 5ft 8, a knee injury that caused him to miss an entire season, and Villanova, a smaller program.

Without a doubt, Westbrook would not have used his strengths to become a two-time Pro Bowler with the Eagles in 2004 and 2007.

Then he realized that he didn’t want others to feel limited in what they could do. When asked in 2020 by Lesley Van Arsdall, a CBS 3 sports host, about writing a children’s book, Westbrook saw it as an opportunity to share the adversity he’d been through and to remind kids that they can do it all can reach the highest level, no matter how big they are.

“Brian has one of the best stories I’ve ever heard,” said Van Arsdall. “I reached out to Brian and it was kind of the perfect time in his life because he has three young kids and like me he just reads books to his kids… After that I started Brian’s story from scratch, which is better than anything, which could have occurred to me because his story is real.”

The two wrote the book together The mouse that played soccer which was released on August 1st. The book takes readers through Westbrook’s career, beginning with a young mouse named Brian who is told, “Too small. A tough little guy, but I’m not sure he has what it takes.” The line runs throughout the book. Van Arsdall described the issue as weakness becoming strength.

When Brian was the mouse in high school, the authors wrote, he tried hitting touchdowns with tenacity, but it wasn’t working, so he used what he was good at, sped past the stronger players and skipped over the taller players.

“I looked at it because my height allows me to be even more successful,” Westbrook said, referring to his football career. “For a lot of people, they feel like your height, especially in football, is a weakness. I never thought so. I always thought that was my strength because I could make people miss tackles. I’ve been able to play for a long time doing many things that traditional running backs never did: catching the ball out of the backfield, being a running and a passing threat, and playing against special teams.

“Again, this is a children’s book, but there are so many real life messages for adults too.”

One moment Westbrook didn’t mention in the book about judging his height was a Senior Bowl game he attended at Villanova. The Seattle Seahawks coached Westbrook’s team. Then-running backs coach Stump Mitchell approached Westbrook and said, “The scouts just think you can be a third down back and a special teams player.”

Westbrook was shocked Mitchell said there was a pipeline between NFL coaches and college players at the All-Star Game. He also received a number of honors as a wildcat and held the all-time NCAA record with 9,512 all-purpose yards. Westbrook knew his worth and wanted to be an all-down back. However, it was not the last time he heard these comments.

“I had to go out and prove myself for the role,” Westbrook said. “I had to go out there and do whatever I can to make sure I can be successful by my standards, not anyone else’s standards.”

Illustrator Mr. Tom highlights the city of Philadelphia, Villanova and of course the Eagles throughout the book. Even former Eagles coach Andy Reid is credited as “Big Red.”

Reid was an important part of Westbrook’s career. He liked what Westbrook had to offer and drafted him in the third round with the 91st pick overall. After making his mark, Westbrook became a standout running back for the Eagles.

“The reason we mentioned Big Red is because of that [Reid] is one of the people I’ve respected throughout my career,” Westbrook said. “He’s helped me with so many different things.”

Westbrook hopes the book represents his legacy. After spending two years working on rewrites, illustrations and finding a publicist, Westbrook and Van Arsdall spend the next few weeks bringing their book to a wider audience.

“It feels good to be able to portray part of my career in this book,” said Westbrook. “It also feels good to have a story that my family can read for years.

“This book is a lot bigger than myself, it’s a lot bigger than Leslie Van Arsdale. It’s all about our youth and the legacy we leave to our children.”

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