GREEN BAY – Paul Scharping never imagined standing on the sideline at Ray Nitschke Field, waiting for practice to begin with his son’s NFL jersey on his back.
At least, that’s not the outcome Paul envisioned 20 years ago, when he brought his son, Max, to Lambeau Field for the Packers’ Family Night scrimmage.
Max, just shy of his third birthday at the time, wore a No. 4 Brett Favre jersey to the event. As father and son walked to the stadium together, unbeknownst to Paul, his brother-in-law snapped a photo of the two from a few short steps behind.
Four months later, Paul unwrapped what stands to this day as one of the best Christmas presents he’s ever received.
“They never told me,” Paul Scharping said. “It’s one my most precious Christmas gifts.”
On Monday morning, one mile from the vacuum and radon business he owns and operates, Paul for the first time watched Max practice as a member of the Houston Texans, with his wife, Jackie, and a collection of their close family and friends.
There was hope maybe Max would get drafted by the Packers in April, but the family took no issue with the Texans using a second-round pick (No. 55 overall) to draft their 6-foot-6, 327-pound son, a former Northern Illinois offensive lineman.
Scharping’s rise has been as improbable as it gets. Not only is he the first graduate from the Green Bay Area Public Schools district to be drafted into the NFL in nearly 30 years, but also there was a time not long ago when baseball was his first love.
That all changed once Scharping met Bryce Paup, the Southwest High School coach and former Packers linebacker who convinced Scharping to put everything he had into football.
Playing a short five-minute drive from Lambeau Field, Scharping became a three-time All-Fox River Classic Conference selection for the Trojans, starting on both sides of the ball for all but one game over his final three years of high school.
“I get very emotional because he’s such a good kid,” said Jackie Scharping, holding back tears. “Because he’s Max to me. He’s just Max. But he’s always been the biggest, off the charts as far as height and weight, but always very even.”
Max’s size and athleticism made him a legitimate college prospect. The idea of football being a conduit to a free education initially blew away Paul and Jackie, but midway through Max’s time at Northern Illinois, it dawned on them it could be something even greater.
A three-time All-Mid-American Conference selection, Scharping started 53 consecutive collegiate games for the Huskies en route to becoming one of only a handful of Green Bay natives to receive an NFL Scouting Combine invite over the last decade.
The Packers and Texans met at Ray Nitschke Field for a joint training camp practice.
“You kind of try to keep it in check without getting too high,” Paul said. “After the draft a couple of my buddies said, ‘Can you wipe that smile off your face?’ It’s really unbelievable to think that a kid from Allouez, going through the Allouez Buccaneers and Southwest, ends up here.”
Scharping was one of the first to emerge out of Lambeau Field’s visiting locker room Monday. He chose a small bike, training wheels and all, to drive down to practice.
Speaking to reporters after practice, Scharping was all business. He acknowledged it was cool to be back in Green Bay – “I love the weather” – to practice against his childhood team, but he kept his focus centered on improvement and the task at hand.
When pressed, however, Scharping admitted there is a small part of him that remains a Packers fan at heart.
“First of all, I’m a Houston Texans fan,” said Scharping with a smile. “But it’s buried deep down in there somewhere.”
Paul and Jackie, decked out in Texans’ garb, had a more difficult time keeping their poker faces intact. Prior to Monday, they’d never been this close to an NFL football field before.
The sight of their son walking over to them after practice left a permanent smile on both of their faces, as did their visit with him Sunday evening after the Texans flew into the area.
Jackie even brought a suitcase of Max’s possessions with them for him to bring back to his apartment in Houston. She plans on bringing one suitcase with her to every Texans home game to help complete her son’s move.
The family is expecting a good turnout for Thursday night’s preseason opener at Lambeau Field, an almost surreal reality that’s slowly setting in as the game draws near.
“It’s obviously a kid’s dream come true and a dad’s,” Paul said. “He took advantage of his situation there both academically and obviously football-wise and kept his nose to the grindstone and look where it’s gotten him. You can work hard and have that dream.”
Scharping wasn’t the only Wisconsin native who enjoyed participating in the Packers’ bike tradition for the first time Monday.
The Houston Texans joined in on the Green Bay tradition of riding bikes down DreamDrive.
J.J. Watt, a Pewaukee native, grabbed the first bike he saw on his way to practice – and then accidentally broke it. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive end said he already purchased a new bike for the kid. It still made for a memorable day.
“Obviously very grateful for the reception and the way that they treat me here and the amount of love and support they’ve shown for me,” Watt said. “I watched practice through the fence, and I watched the bikes be ridden, and I stood over by the player’s parking lot and tried to get autographs. So, it’s a pretty special thing.
“I literally dreamt about this as a kid, so to be able to practice on these fields that I watched Brett Favre practice on, there’s not going to be too many days like this in my career. I’m very thankful and grateful that I got to have it.”