The second player to volunteer for my "Where Are They Now" project is Brandon Villarreal. Brandon was a stud defensive line recruit from the Lonestar State that matriculated all the way to West Lafayette to play for Joe Tiller and the Boilermakers. Brandon was a disruptive force on the defensive line, often finding himself in the opponent's backfield making tackles. A man of many talents, Brandon is the only defensive tackle/long snapper I can think of at any level. Villarreal played on some of the saltiest defenses in Purdue history; he was (and is) true Boilermaker through and through. So, without further ado, Mr. Brandon Villarreal.
Hi Brandon, let's start out by letting everyone know what you are up to these days.
I am currently living back in my hometown of Allen, TX and I'm the Defensive Coordinator at McKinney North High School in McKinney, TX. I'm married to my high school sweetheart, Colleen, and we have two boys, Ethan (8) and Reid (4). We have a Pug named Desi too.
Purdue is known as a rigorous academic institution, was it difficult for you to balance the rigors of playing college football with academics? What degree did you finish up with?
Purdue certainly is a rigorous academic university, and I'm proud to say that I graduated with a B.S. in Sociology. Was it hard to balance school and football at a major Division 1 university in the Big Ten? Absolutely. However, if you are fortunate enough to be on scholarship at Purdue, the coaching staff feels that you can handle the academic load that the university has to offer. The hardest part of balancing academics and athletics was more about time management. Learning how to find the time to manage studying, working out, etc., and keeping your grades at a high level.
As a follow up to the last question, what support did Purdue have for football players on the academic side of the equation?
Academic support was always available to us and Coach Tiller made sure that we had access to everything we needed to maintain good grades. We utilized the tutors provided by the athletic department and had mandatory study hours to ensure that we had time to complete necessary work for class. He would always say "college is not a four year investment, it's a forty year investment, and Purdue will provide you with the tools you need to be successful after football."
Your playing weight was in the 290's at Purdue. Was it hard to maintain that weight in college, and what are you weighing in at these days?
It certainly was hard to maintain that weight in college because of the amount of activity you're involved in throughout the year. At any given practice or workout (depending on the time of year) I could lose anywhere from 3-10 pounds. Now most of that is water weight, but it was still hard to maintain at times. I'm a naturally larger individual so I'm around 270 lbs. these days and fluctuate anywhere from 260-280 if I'm working out.
You played on some pretty stout defenses in your 4 years at Purdue. What made those Purdue defenses so special?
Defense is something you absolutely must play with discipline and passion. Players must have a relentless desire to get to the ball and punish whoever is carrying it. The defenses that I was a part of always had guys who wanted to destroy opponents and were greedy about getting to the quarterback and taking the ball away. Stuart Schweigert, Niko Koutouvides, Rob Ninkovich, Anthony Spencer, Gilbert Gardner, Ralph Turner, Jacques Reeves, Antwaun Rogers, Matt Mitrione, Ray Edwards, Bernard Pollard, Joe Odom, Ralph Turner, Craig Terrill, Landon Johnson, and the list goes on. Put a defense like that back together in West Lafayette and watch teams have a hard time moving the ball and scoring, We loved the game, had a passion for punishing ball carriers, and had fun playing the game.
To follow that up, what do you think the current Purdue team can do on defense to get back to the success that the defenses you played on achieved?
We really need to have guys step up and play with passion, as well as be aggressive. That comes back to recruiting the right guys, but they won't come to Purdue without proven success. If guys will step up and start to play with some more swagger and have a mentality that nobody will score on them, they might have a chance. At times they look like they're going through the motions.
Were there any players that you played with that inspired you or that you tried to model your game after?
I was always trying to improve my game to be the best that I could be. So I watched a lot of guys and tried to incorporate a little bit of each into my own game. Craig Terrill's ability to rush the quarterback, Landon Johnson's knowledge of the game, Niko Koutouvides' intensity, Stuart Schweigert's tackling, among others.
There aren't many defensive tackle/long snappers around, but you pulled double duty at Purdue. How did that come about?
I actually snapped from my redshirt sophomore year on. So it was actually three years doing double duty. I long snapped in high school while playing linebacker as well, so the talent just transferred over. I played baseball growing up and could throw in the upper 80's/lower 90's from the mound so snapping came naturally.
Thinking back on your days at Purdue, what was the most satisfying victory you were a part of, and what was the most stinging defeat?
The most satisfying victory, by far, was beating Notre Dame in South Bend in 2004. We held ND to under 100 yds rushing, had 7 sacks, and held them to under 20 points. Taylor Stubblefield caught a pass from Kyle Orton and went 97 yds for the touchdown while pumping the train horn all the way from the 50 yd line in. It was our first win at Notre Dame in thirty years. (1974)
The most stinging defeat was losing to Wisconsin at home that same season. We were 5-0 and ranked #5 in the country with Orton a front-runner for the Heisman. Wisconsin came to town (which was always a tough game), ESPN GameDay was in town, and the stage was set for a HUGE game. I still get knots in the pit of my stomach thinking about "the fumble" that Wisconsin scooped and scored for the go-ahead touchdown and eventual win.
Position coaches are often under appreciated by the average college football fan. Who was (were) your position coach(es) at Purdue?
I was fortunate to only have one position coach during my entire career at Purdue and that was Mark Hagen. I learned more football and technique from him than any other coach I've ever had. I will say that I thought he hated me more than anyone else for the first two years I was there because he was INCREDIBLY hard on me. Looking back, however, his tough love was because he cared about me and I'm a better man for it today. I still talk to him on a regular basis now and he is my biggest mentor.
Do you have any Joe Tiller stories you would like to share?
I don't know that there are any "stories" about Coach Tiller so much as there were little quirks he had. Little quips and sayings that made him so likeable. "Get your mind off of your mind" was one that I recall never stopped. He always wanted us to push harder than our mind would allow us to work.
You are a Texan, and one thing I've learned about Texans in my stay in College Station, is that they love Texas, like really, really, really, love Texas. What about Purdue lured you away from playing for one of the Texas schools?
It goes without saying that Texans love Texas. Probably more than Kanye loves Kanye. Purdue was able to lure me away from Texas for a few reasons. I was only offered by three schools in Texas; Texas A&M and TCU. I didn't like R.C. Slocum's personality at A&M and TCU changed coaches during my recruiting period. Texas said I was too small to play in the Big XII and I never really heard from any others and I didn't have any interest in playing at SMU. My official visit to Purdue was awesome. The players were great, the coaches were honest, they had just won the Big Ten title, were prepping for the Rose Bowl, and Drew Brees was a finalist for the Heisman. It was the pinnacle of the program's existence since the 1967 Rose Bowl team. Pair that with a high academic reputation and it was a no-brainer.
Can you please describe your first winter in West Lafayette?
Cold. Miserable. Cold. Long. Did I mention cold? I had NEVER experienced a winter like the midwest had that year being from Texas. I love the cold, but it got old...very quick. I think it snowed from the end of September all the way into May.
Speaking of the current Boilermakers, things have been bleak on the gridiron recently. When looking at the program as a whole, what do you think needs to happen to bring Purdue back to the standard your teams set?
To be honest, there isn't one or two things that can happen for it to completely turn around. Recruiting needs to improve for one, but I think it's really tough to say. I know Coach Hazell is doing all he can to change the culture around there, but it's tough when you're not winning. Players need to buy-in to the scheme and play it to the best of their abilities as well. If for some reason they come up short again, I unfortunately think that Coach Hazell may be let go, and if that's the case we could benefit from shelling out money for a bigger name who wants to turn the program around. That would draw recruits.
Do you have any advice for incoming Purdue football players?
Cherish your time there because it will be the best time of your life. Bleed Old Gold & Black, and sell out for the program. You'll be proud to wear that P for the rest of your life.
Do you get back to Ross-Ade for any games?
Being a football coach myself, it's almost impossible to get back for games. I've been to one game at Ross-Ade and that was the Notre Dame game in 2013. Interesting fact, that was the first and only game I've ever seen from the stands at Ross-Ade. My official visit was during bowl prep and I was on the travel squad my freshman year.
What is your prediction for the upcoming season?
Well it's hard to say, but I think it goes without saying that it will be tough following three very bleak seasons with little to no production. I think with Terry Malone taking over as the offensive coordinator it will be a positive change for the boilers. He was our tight ends' coach in New Orleans and he's a very good coach with a great mind for offense. He was a coach for Michigan under Lloyd Carr so he knows the conference well.
You have two boys, how chaotic is your house? Do you get any peace and quiet or is it full go all the time?
Chaotic is an understatement. These two boys are nothing short of a blessing...but they know how to test patience with the best of them. EVERYTHING is a competition. Who can get in the door first, who is faster, who does the dabb better. It's never-ending and they're four years apart. Think about the competition between Brennan and Dale in Step Brothers and you've got my kids. I do say that I love their competitive nature...but there really is never a dull moment and not much peace and quiet, It really is full go all the time.
You coach football at McKinney North (Tx). Was coaching always something you were interested in pursuing after your playing career was over?
I knew I would be a coach someday, I just didn't know when. I've been doing it for just over seven years now and it's one of the greatest blessings God has provided me next to His grace, my wife, and my kids.
Can you let our readers know just how crazy high school football is in Texas?
It's a religion down here, that's for sure. You alluded to Texans loving Texas and high school football IS Texas. Towns shut down on Friday nights and support their teams to the nth degree. The 6A State Championship a few years ago had 55,000+ people in attendance which would have ranked higher than almost 30 college bowl games that season. It's a really big deal.
You're a big guy, and it's insanely hot and humid in Texas. I generally start sweating all day in March and stop around November, is that about your schedule as well?
Drew, I sweat putting my shoes on in the morning. I even sweat thinking about sweating. It comes with the territory of being a large human. I don't really ever stop. I use a fan all year long in my room while the A/C is blasting...even in the winter. My wife hates it. In fact, I have the A/C at 65 right now with the living room fan on. I sleep with A/C, ceiling fan, and a fan in my face. Maybe it's overkill.
Do you keep up with any of your former teammates?
As a matter of fact, I do. I have kept in touch with Stu Schweigert, Ben Jones, Kyle Smith, Brandon Jones, Jerod Void, Charles Davis, John Lampert, Chase Lecklider, Landon Johnson, and Rob Ninkovich. Rob and I (as well as Stu) talk quite often.
If they were looking for an actor for the Brandon Villarreal biopic, who would you endorse.
There's so many angles I could take with this. My first choice would be Kevin Spacey because he's my favorite actor (House of Cards is my favorite show), but that's not a logical choice. Based on who I closely resemble (according to other people), it would either be Vince Vaughn or Kevin James. (I refuse to come to terms that I resemble the latter.) That being said, the most realistic and logical choice for me to endorse would be Bradley Cooper. When American Sniper came out, I had so many people tell me I looked like him in that movie.
If I make it up to McKinny, or Dallas, what are some of the places I need to eat?
If you make it to Dallas, make sure you go to Sonny Bryan's BBQ, Javier's Gourmet Mexican Restaurant, Campisi's Italian, Twisted Root Burgers (really any of the burger joints here...there's thousands of them), and once you've tried those, we can branch out from there.
Do you have anything you want to plug?
I'm the VP of Partnerships for The Huddle Network (www.thehuddlenetwork.com) and we would love for fans to check us out if they haven't already. We are a network of over 100 former college football athletes who know the game better than the average sports reporter. We are a digital sport media company that produces podcasts for some of the biggest Power Five conference schools (including Purdue) in the country. Some of the names associated with THN are Mike Golic, Jr., Ricky Watters, Eric Crouch, Pat White, Alex Brink, Jordan Rodgers, and Max Starks to name a few. We give a unique perspective on college football because we've been in the huddle and can give a first-hand account of what goes on with the team all year long. Most sportscasters and reporters have not had the experience we've had, so people will get the best insight and analysis from guys who have been "in the trenches" putting in the work. Please check us out and #GetInTheHuddle. You can follow us on twitter at @HuddleNetwork and you can follow me at @BrandonVilla55. We always love interaction and want to hear from YOU, the fans.