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Monday, November 19, 2018

Football

Return to Third Ward offers nostalgic debut for Cougar defender


Senior defensive lineman Reggie Chevis, center, went from sneaking into UH games as a kid to taking the field for the Cougars in 2017. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

A dumpster behind Robertson Stadium years ago provided the perfect cover for a Third Ward teenager to quietly breach a rickety fence unnoticed. When successful — which he often was — he meandered throughout the confines to catch a close-up glimpse of the Cougars at a fully-discounted rate.

Now in his first year at Houston after spending his first four collegiate seasons at Texas A&M, fifth-year senior defensive lineman Reggie Chevis cannot believe how far he has come.

“I can remember as a kid sneaking into the games and practices at UH,” Chevis said. “It was Robertson Stadium at the time. Me and my friend would find a way each time they were having a game to get in and watch the game for free. Now to come and play in the Third Ward, in Houston, it still doesn’t feel real, but I’m taking it one day at a time.”

Becoming a Cougar

Chevis played football at Houston’s Sharpstown High School, where he terrorized opposing quarterbacks every Friday night. It didn’t take long for some of the nation’s top college football teams to take notice, and they wasted no time in picking up the phone.

He began to receive offers from LSU, Baylor, Arkansas and UH, among others, but instead decided to head to College Station for a chance to play on one of college football’s biggest stages.

Following his redshirt freshman season with the Aggies, Chevis decided that he would like the opportunity to play in his hometown after seeing his former high school coach take a football operations position with UH Athletics.

A promise to his grandmother, however, kept him at bay.

“I told my grandmother I wouldn’t leave Texas A&M without graduating, so of course I got my degree,” Chevis said. “The opportunity was there, so I prayed on it, and God said come home, so that’s what happened. I have been wanting to come home, and I’ve seen how UH was putting on for the city, and I wanted a piece of that cake.”

According to NCAA transfer rules, a player may change schools without missing any game time if they have completed their degree and have eligibility remaining. Because of his 2013 redshirt year, Chevis is eligible for his fourth and final season in Houston.

Playing with the best

After taking the field in scarlet for the first time against Arizona on Sept. 9, Chevis has claimed a unique feat as the only player in the nation to play on the same defensive line as former A&M star Myles Garrett and current Cougar sensation Ed Oliver.

Garrett and Oliver are widely regarded as two of the top defenders in recent college football history, and Chevis recognizes the value of playing alongside the pair.

“It’s surreal because a lot of people don’t get to do that,” Chevis said. “(Playing with) two of the top players in college football back-to-back… that just doesn’t happen often. You want to just keep going because you know what they’re going to bring to the table, and of course nobody wants to be the weakest link. So you’re going to put forth your best effort every time.”

Chevis said Oliver was one of the first players to accept him upon his arrival at UH, and their relationship has grown tighter over the last few months.

Although he is now being embraced by all on the Cougars’ roster, his teammates are quick to throw friendly jabs at the bearded 23-year-old for his wise appearance and comparatively old age.

“They call me old man,” Chevis said. “Some call me Moses out the Bible. Sampson, Jesus — I get it all. I had to change a lot about myself in order to fit in and to be able to be a part of the brotherhood. I had to empty everything I was used to. Kind of come into myself and see how can I benefit from the team and how can the team benefit from me.”

New beginnings

The fence he squeezed through as a kid is no longer standing.

Robertson Stadium was demolished in 2012 in order for TDECU Stadium to open in 2014.

The new stadium offers a far greater challenge for those looking to sneak a free glimpse of the Cougars. Fortunately, Chevis didn’t have to return to his old, frowned-upon ways of entering the stadium when he walked through shiny doors to suit up for his first game in his hometown against Rice last Saturday.

For Chevis, it’s a surreal experience.

“To see how time has changed for me to go from a kid sneaking into a game to playing, and my family coming to see me, it’s crazy,” he said. “It’s something that I always wanted to do. It’s something that I always had in mind before (transferring), and to see it coming into play is amazing.”

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