Can one of the biggest defensive tackles on the team hit the high notes? He can try.
Ty Lohr, email@example.com
Penn State’s problem solver never had to be this patient and persistent.
Would John Reid ever truly be that Super Glue cornerback again?
It had been so long since Nittany Lion fans saw him play like that, some 22 months ago in the Rose Bowl.
He missed all of last season after tearing his ACL. He missed a couple more games during his comeback this fall because of an unrelated and undisclosed injury.
He looked out of sorts when he did play.
This from the high-energy defensive back who could rock receivers in tackle-mode as well as stick tight in coverage.
It had been so long …
After the awful finish against Ohio State, the Problem Solver had enough.
“John Reid’s a hard worker, and he tries to perfect his craft each day,” said Terry Smith, Penn State’s cornerbacks coach. “He missed a tackle in the Ohio State game, and he felt bad about that, and he vowed that would never happen to him again.”
Toughest major around? No problem for John Reid
Go back to his first days playing football, 9 or 10 years old. He was faster but also smaller than everyone else.
So Reid learned how to turn that quickness into escapability. He studied how to make elusive moves and cuts with a purpose.
“Because he did not want to get hit,” his father says now with a laugh. “He did not want to get hit by the bigger kids.”
He carried that onto to high school in Philadelphia where he became one of the most sought-after recruits on the East Coast. He was a video game aficionado who became frustrated with the limits of his gaming system.
He couldn’t afford the kind of computer that did what he wanted.
So he built his own.
“He was always driven. It was always about learning how things worked,” his father said.
His college search evolved into an intense endeavor where he became the hard-line interviewer. While touring Penn State on a mass recruiting weekend, he bypassed the barbecue and socializing to pour over game film with the defensive coaches.
He needed to fully understand the intricacies of the Nittany Lions’ defense before deciding to verbally commit.
Once there, he chose one of the most challenging majors — computational data sciences in the school of engineering. His classes include statistics, data structure and algorithms.
How many could find those kind of answers?
“You got to give up some stuff,” he said about balancing football with high-level academics. “Sometimes you may want to go out and eat good and you don’t have time to do it. For me, (my teammates) just aren’t interested in the stuff I am.”
His father said this about John’s school work and the “brainiac” tag that follows him: “He’s not the smartest in his engineering class, but he knows he will outwork every one in that class. He’s a very competitive person. And you can see the results …”
Father and son agree that he sought a different life path than those who came before him.
Reid’s father was only 18 when he was born. His grandmother was just 14 when she gave birth to his father and his identical twin brother.
To provide for his baby boy, Reid Sr. said he delivered pizzas during the day and worked an assembly line job at night. There wasn’t time for much else.
“I didn’t go to college, no excuse,” Reid Sr. said. “John knew he had to do college. You can be successful without a degree, but it’s a lot more difficult.”
Reid Jr. said he understood his parent’s situation early on. They split up when he was 2.
“They didn’t have a lot of the opportunities I had, to play football in college, even to go to college. They had me when they were 17, 18 so they had a lot on their plates. The things they messed up on they tried to help me not make those same mistakes.”
Reid combined his elite physical skills with exhaustive study habits to become one of the most coveted high school prospects in the state. He helped lead St. Joseph’s Prep to back-to-back PIAA Class 4A championships.
At Penn State, he was physically and mentally prepared to play right away. He made five tackles in his debut at Temple and was named to ESPN.com’s Big Ten All-Freshman team by the end.
He only grew better and more versatile as a sophomore. He ripped off a 59-yard punt return at Pitt one week, saved the Temple game with a late interception the next.
He did so much in that Big Ten title season except lock down on USC late in the Rose Bowl.
That was motivation heading through 2017. Yet another step to take.
He was nearly halfway through that preparation — on the verge of giving Penn State the deepest defensive back group in the nation — when everything changed.
His long road back to the Penn State field
He had never been seriously injured on any level.
Penn State had just started spring practice, and Reid was repping with future NFL Draft picks Marcus Allen, Troy Apke and Christian Campbell, along with NFL free agent Grant Haley.
Then it happened: A few weeks before the annual Blue-White Game Reid ripped up his knee. He knew he would almost certainly miss the entire upcoming season.
How would he problem solve this one?
He would invest in the toughest transition by becoming a de-facto assistant coach on the sidelines during practice and games. Penn State’s staff thought so much of his role that he took up a valuable travel roster spot on road trips.
He said the experience would make him a smarter, better player.
It also provided the availability to pursue a 10-week internship with Intel in Oregon. His days began with 6 a.m. football rehab sessions followed by eight hours working with the data center group. His evenings ended with lifting and gym training.
“When I was hurt I was able to gain a different perspective watching the game. There would be certain situations where you may give up a catch and that gets you frustrated, but then I could see the whole picture (more clearly).”
His father saw a different side of him emerge last year.
“I think the injury helped him become mentally stronger. My son tends to push himself so hard that he doesn’t quite enjoy the moments as much as he should. He’s so super focused on what to do, he may not realize everything going on around him, like how much fun it is. When he had that injury he was able to realize some of that.”
He was resigned to remain as tough as he was before, tackling and fighting receivers much larger than his 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds.
But his anticipated return didn’t go as planned this summer. Only now does he look to be regaining his form. The past four games he has attacked ballcarriers in the open field with his old force. The first sign was two rocket-launched tackles in the loss to Michigan State. He followed that with a career-best eight tackles at Indiana.
The next week he returned interception 44 yards, weaving from one side of the field to the other to set up a touchdown. He also broke up three passes and was credited with a quarterback hurry.
“He’s like your feisty pit bull,” Smith said this past spring. “Like a dog in a competition who refuses to lose …”
To better prepare, the junior watches more game film than anyone.
“You can study certain corners and see what they’re doing and pick apart their games and see what you want to add to yours,” Reid said. “Being able to study the (opponent) is extremely important. You can’t go out there blind.”
Reid never does, it seems. He’s always planning, studying, finding answers.
Part of that is from his parents, whom he admires. His father handles the medical billing for a family practice and his mother is studying to be a nurse.
Reid figures to immerse himself in a computer software career one day, maybe with a focus on artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Coaching always is possible, too. He loved wearing the headset and helping on the sidelines during his injury season.
“I still love football more than anything,” he said. “When you’re approaching (computers and football) they’re kind of the same. You approach both with the same mentality. I attack everything the same way.”