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Brian Urlacher never forgot New Mexico roots

At New Mexico Brian Urlacher played defense special teams even little wide receiver. | AP

At New Mexico, Brian Urlacher played defense and special teams and even a little at wide receiver. | AP

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Updated: June 27, 2013 6:44AM

Speedy Faith describes it as a picturesque day in Albuquerque, N.M., five or six years ago. He and longtime Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had just finished dinner — on Urlacher, of course — after running a football camp and stepped outside.

“It was beautiful. With the mountains. Everything,” Faith said.

But Urlacher had a beef to settle with his high school coach from Lovington, N.M.

“He said, ‘Coach, I think I’m mad at you,’ and I looked at him and said, ‘Brian, you’re mad at me? You’re an NFL superstar,’ ” Faith explained. “He said, ‘But, yeah, if you had played me at quarterback in high school, I might have been a quarterback in the NFL and been making Peyton Manning money.’ . . . It’s a true story, but he was joking.”

Of course, he was.

Those who go back to Lovington with Urlacher have plenty of stories to share like that. Before he became Chicago’s, he belonged to that small New Mexico town and still does.

“He’s one of us,” said Jaime Quinones, an assistant when Urlacher played at Lovington High and the current coach.

“He’s a great friend to many.’’

Urlacher never wanted the spotlight for his charity work. But Lovington has been the biggest beneficiary. Quinones described it as “his constant love for Lovington.”

It would take Lovington athletic director Chief Bridgforth hours to explain what Urlacher has done for his high school throughout his career. For years, Urlacher paid for students to attend football camps. He also sponsored senior trips to Lubbock, Texas, provided every varsity athlete with shoes for years and supplied the school with thousands of dollars worth of weightlifting equipment.

And there was the annual charity basketball game, which included Lance Briggs and other NFLers, with all proceeds benefitting the school. Lovington’s field house, of course, is named the Brian Urlacher Training Center. Urlacher had sponsors, but his contributions always came from his pockets.

“He was always giving back and coming back,” said Bridgforth, who coached Urlacher in basketball. “I would bet he did more than that around here that I wasn’t even aware of.”

It took a broken wrist for Faith to become aware of what he truly had in Urlacher. He suffered the injury his junior year covering a kickoff and saw an orthopedic specialist in Lubbock.

“His mom said, ‘The interesting thing was the specialist said that according to Brian’s growth plates, he might reach 6-5,’ ” Faith said. “It was at that point that I knew he was going to be a lot different than any of the other athletes that we ever coached.”

You could say he was the best ever from New Mexico.

At the University of New Mexico, coach Rocky Long changed everything to suit Urlacher’s talents.

The team installed a 3-3-5 defensive scheme in which Urlacher basically became “a 10-yard-deep middle linebacker,” Long said. Urlacher blossomed and became so valuable that Long initiated “the Urlacher rule” his senior season.

“The coaches up in the press box kept track of the number of plays he was in because he played every play on defense, he was on every special team, he returned punts, he returned kickoffs and anytime we got to the 20-yard line, we put him in at wide receiver,” Long said. “When he hit 100, all he did was play defense.”

Of course, the Bears took notice, drafting him ninth overall in 2000, and the rest is history.

When Quinones and Faith came to Chicago for games, they said Urlacher always treated them like family. That’s who he was. Chicago never changed him. They use words like “integrity,” “generosity” and “leader” often when talking about Urlacher.

“He’s the same guy as when he graduated [high school],” Faith said.

That’s why Urlacher’s decision to retire was met with sadness but also satisfaction in Lovington.

“It’s just special to know that young man has played on our field, was in our locker room, was in our weight room,” Quinones said. “He just has represented the state of New Mexico so very well.”

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