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Adam Sparks

Vanderbilt offensive lineman Bruno Reagan’s dad brawled in brutal fight clubs on Indian reservations in the late 1980s.

Bruno’s mother was an athletically gifted volleyball player inducted into the Austin Peay Hall of Fame.

It’s no wonder Bruno turned out to be an agile 6-foot-3, 315-pound world-class judo fighter, state champion wrestler and a Vanderbilt offensive lineman no one messes with.

“Getting into fights has never been a problem,” Bruno said with a sly grin. “They just know never to go there with me.”

Reagan, a Clarksville native, enters his junior season as one of Vanderbilt’s most valuable linemen. As a tenacious right guard last season, he helped bolster the Commodores’ power rushing attack.

This season he will start at either guard or center, where his unique background will come in handy.

“Balance, leverage, center of gravity,” Reagan said. “I’ve gotten all that from judo and wrestling, and it’s a natural transition for what I do now.”

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Bruno’s father loved to fight 

Bruno’s dad, Mackel, was a barrel-chested offensive lineman at both MTSU and Austin Peay in the 1980s. After graduation, he started training in martial arts like taekwondo and sambo and then transitioned into freestyle fighting.

“It was kind of like MMA is now, but at that time there were no rules in it,” Mackel said. “And it was similar to fight club, but you weren’t really friends. You show up, represent your club and just fight anybody.

“Believe it or not, a lot of it was done on Indian reservations, so you wouldn’t have to deal with local licenses. Anything goes, and I Ioved to fight.”

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Mackel said he gave up freestyle fighting to focus on growing a family in Clarksville.

“And also my Russian instructor in sambo was deported,” he added in a matter-of-fact manner.

Bruno followed his dad’s path and picked up judo as early as 3 years old. Within a couple of years, he was winning matches against children twice his age.

As a 15-year-old in 2011, Bruno won the under-21 judo junior national championship in his weight class, and then finished top 10 in the world championships in Ukraine.

The following year he won a gold medal in the judo Junior Olympics and started a streak of 101 consecutive wins as a Clarksville High wrestler. And he did it all with his proud father, who also coached him in judo, by his side.

“I was always the strong guy who loved to fight and just grinded,” Mackel said. “But I was totally different from Bruno. He’s a true martial artist, and he’s a gifted athlete like his mom.”

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Mother was a killer on the court 

Mackel admits to having a hot temper, but his son comes across as mild-mannered.

“He has a good, calm head on his shoulders. Out of our three kids, I’d say he favors me the most,” Bruno’s mom, Isabel Canedo Reagan, said with a chuckle.

Isabel was the 1991 Ohio Valley Conference Volleyball Player of the Year and tournament MVP, and then she was named Austin Peay’s NCAA Woman of the Year in 1993. She was even included on The Tennessean’s 2014 list of legendary ladies in Middle Tennessee sports history.

Isabel first noticed Bruno’s balance and athleticism when, at 2 years old, he stood in front of the TV and mimicked a pitcher’s wind-up while watching a baseball game.

“It was almost perfect form,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s not normal.’”

Mackel and Isabel loved Bruno’s eagerness to try any sport. He led his Little League team in home runs. He was a superb goalkeeper in soccer. He dominated the state as a heavyweight on the wrestling mat. And he finally started playing football at Clarksville High as a sophomore.

Bruno had the physical strength of his father, but his quiet competitiveness came straight from his mother.

“He is mild-mannered, but he can get very intense when he’s in the zone,” his mom said. “It’s a quality that you develop. I was the same way. I was polite off the court, but when I was in the game I had to hurt some people.”

Isabel broke Austin Peay’s record for kills in a single season, intimidating opponents in OVC matches throughout her volleyball career. The same selective grit is in her son.

Last season, Bruno was a key cog in Vanderbilt’s opportunistic red-zone offense, which scored in 93.5 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line, the fifth-highest mark in the nation. He bulldozed opposing defenders, pushed the line toward the end zone and opened up holes for record-breaking rusher Ralph Webb.

“Bruno has an intensity when he needs it,” Isabel said. “You have to hurt people so they remember you and so they are afraid.”

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

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