As the member of a family with deep roots in sports — including a few cousins who tried out for the NFL — Ashley Sims was familiar with witnessing feats of athleticism. But his eyes were opened when, as a 22-year-old junior defensive end at Maryland, he returned to his mother's home in Rochester, N.Y., and saw his 11-year-old brother — whom Sims estimated stood at 5 feet 4 inches and weighed 220 pounds — doing backflips.
"Right then and there, I knew he was an athlete," Sims recalled. "… Even when he was a baby, I remember when he was 2 or 3 years old, he would throw the football from the dining room to the living room. I knew right then and there, he was special."
That 11-year-old now stands at 6-5 and 316 pounds. Many people know him as Branden Albert, the starting left tackle of the Kansas City Chiefs. But to many students, teachers and administrators at Glen Burnie High School, where he spent his junior and senior years, Albert is a role model who hasn't let stardom get to his head.
"He didn't big-time anybody," said Gophers boys basketball coach Mike Rudd. "When he came back during the bye week last year, the kids at school were just lit up to see him walk around. A lot of people wanted to take pictures with him, and he did all that. He didn't have to come back, but he did that on his own. He came to one game last year when we played Arundel and lost that by one. But he came into the locker room after the game, and he talked to the kids. He's done that for me quite a few times since he's been in the NFL."
Albert's humility at his alma mater isn't phony. Albert, who is now 27 and playing in his fifth year in the NFL, insists that he's still far from feeling content with his career.
"You can't really get comfortable," Albert said Wednesday. "Once you get complacent, that's when things go wrong for you. So I work every day to be the best I can be and get better. I don't know where I'm at or how people view me. I feel like there are still people out there who doubt my skills. So every day, I just work hard and try to keep proving everybody wrong."
Albert is currently enjoying one of his better seasons with the Chiefs. Through the first four games, he has surrendered just one sack and committed just four penalties, according to Pro Football Weekly. He is on pace to finish the 2012 campaign eclipsing his previous career low of sacks allowed (4½).
Pro Football Focus has Albert ranked as the fourth-best offensive tackle in the NFL and the third-best left tackle behind Duane Brown of the Houston Texans and Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos.
Albert's play hasn't escaped the attention of Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel. "Branden is a competitive young man, and manning the spot that he has to play is a tough position, but he handles the pressure of that job well and does a good job," the Chiefs coach said.
Albert, who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy before attending Virginia, spent his college career lining up at left guard while D'Brickashaw Ferguson and then Eugene Monroe manned the left tackle positions.
Marques Hagans, who was the quarterback during Albert's freshman season, said he felt secure with Albert protecting his blind side.
"That whole left side between him and D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Eugene Monroe, they were all top-15 picks," Hagans noted. "They made up one of the best blind sides that any quarterback in America could ask for. … I never worried about my blind side having B.A. there."
While the Cavaliers compiled a 21-16 record and made two bowl appearances during Albert's three-year career there, he has not enjoyed similar success with the Chiefs, who have suffered through three sub-.500 seasons during his four years. Albert has also watched Herman Edwards get replaced by Todd Haley, who was in turn replaced by Crennel.
Albert admitted that the lack of consistency has been difficult.
"But it's part of being a professional athlete and being a football player," he said. "You're going to face adversity, you're going to face your ups and downs, and that's one thing that [former Chiefs guard] Brian Waters taught me. When you're going through your downs, you try to figure out how to turn them into ups, and you go from there."
Albert is playing in the final year of the rookie contract that he signed in 2008, but he has declined to discuss his future plans. Sims, who lives in Edgewood and is a New York Giants fan, said he wants his younger brother to remain in Kansas City.
"Right now, he's worried about Baltimore because if he concentrates on what's going on outside, he's going to have some issues," Sims said. "He loves Kansas City, he loves the fans, he loves the team, he loves the ownership, he loves the general manager, he loves the coaches, he loves his teammates. His heart is in the Midwest. So he doesn't think outside of Kansas City. They were the ones that were loyal to him and drafted him. So at this time, his heart is going to Kansas City, and he doesn't want to think outside of Kansas City. I'm a Giants fan, but at the same time, I love Kansas City."
Albert's immediate future centers on Sunday's home game against the Ravens, and that is his only concern.
"You've just got to do your job and do it to the best of your ability and let everything fall into place," he said. "You can only control what you can control, and that's how you play."