GREEN BAY, Wis. – Max Scharping’s roots run deep here in the heart of Packers country.
His father, Paul, runs the family vacuum and radon business on Oneida Street, within walking distance of storied Lambeau Field.
Scharping was a standout at Green Bay Southwest High School, which is located on Packerland Drive.
And the Texans’ starting offensive guard grew up attending Packers games and training camps while wearing a No. 4 Brett Favre jersey.
Scharping, 25, grew into a 6-foot-6, 327-pound second-round draft pick following an all-conference career at Northern Illinois, emerging as the first graduate of a Green Bay high school to be drafted by an NFL team since Bud Keyes by the Packers in 1988 in the 10th round.
Two years after Scharping and his family, including his mother, Jackie, cherished his emotional homecoming as a rookie when the Texans held joint practices with the Packers prior to his first NFL preseason game, another significant moment awaits him when the Texans face Green Bay in a preseason opener Saturday night.
“I grew up my whole life there, so it's everything,” Scharping said. “It's who I am. That's where I came from. So, it built me into who I am today. I wouldn't be here without Green Bay. It's going to be super special again to get to go back to Green Bay. I'm excited.”
Scharping recounted watching the Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, a 31-25 victory, with his friends at a movie theater when he was in high school, then getting a day off from school because of a championship parade.
“That was pretty cool,” Scharping said.
Scharping played well as a rookie after being drafted by former Texans general manager Brian Gaine. He started 14 games, playing 1,085 snaps with an overall 59.1 Pro Football Focus blocking grade and a 74.0 pass blocking grade.
A year ago, though, Scharping took a major step backward as he missed one game after testing positive for COVID-19 and was limited to eight starts overall as he played just 455 snaps and had a 52.1 Pro Football Focus grade with one sack allowed. Scharping had a career-low 3.1 pass blocking grade in 17 snaps during a blowout loss to the Chicago Bears. He was eventually replaced by converted tackle Brent Qvale in the starting lineup.
Now, Scharping is well-positioned to potentially win a starting job again. Unless the Texans shift right tackle Tytus Howard to left guard next to Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil, which they’ve experimented with, and insert Lane Taylor when he recovers from a torn ACL suffered last season at right guard, Scharping figures to be in the starting lineup at one of the guard spots.
“Max is excited,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He's had a good camp to this point. He's been doing excellent with what we've asked him to do. We’re in that mode right now where we're trying to find out what the best combination for us is, and he's part of that deal right now. He's been doing well for us to this point.”
For Scharping and his parents, Saturday night will feel like old times with him back in Green Bay for a football game.
“They love it,” he said. “They don't have to travel. They travel a lot to all the games. The fact that they can just host it and tailgate and stuff, they're going to be happy.”
Since that first NFL preseason game, Scharping has continued to progress. After a rocky season last year, Scharping is looking to get back on track.
“Obviously, that was my first-ever game at all, so obviously I was going in with a lot of nerves, and now I just feel a little bit more comfortable in where I'm at as a player going into that game,” Scharping said. “So it will be fun just to be able to take in the atmosphere. ..
“I think it's just confidence level. He's been moving me around left guard, right guard, just to see how I can grow as a player, and I think just having that confidence that I can go out there and play either position there right now and work on technique in both places, it gets you to think about your hands, your feet, balance, all that stuff.”
Scharping’s disappointing season mirrored the Texans’ slide from an AFC South division champion into a 4-12 team.
“I think it was tough for the whole team last year with everything going on in the world, and obviously the season didn't end the way anyone wants it to,” Scharping said. “So, it's a fresh start right now. Every single year, new faces, new coaches now for us. So, it's a good place to be where we're starting fresh and working back to getting to winning ways.”
Playing for former Packers and Los Angeles Chargers offensive line coach James Campen, Scharping is upbeat about the Texans’ outlook as an offensive line.
“I just think he brings a great mentality into the room,” Scharping said. “Obviously, he's been doing this a really long time. He's played at this level himself. So, he knows what it's like. He knows what needs to be done. So just getting us in, getting our mentality -- finish, cover the ball, and make sure we take care of our guy, stuff like that. It's great.”
Lining up next to veteran center Justin Britt, the replacement for Nick Martin, has made a difference in Scharping’s daily energy at NRG Stadium.
“I don't think I've ever been around a more positive guy every single day,” Scharping said. “He's in here at 5:30 every morning. He loves this stuff. So just having him as a guy that's up front leading us to the ball every single play, it changes your mindset when you're following someone like that. It's just a great mentality to follow and to get on board with.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128