Can Reid go home again?
Cornerback returns to Valdosta with team goals in mind
VALDOSTA, Ga. -- Rap music booms from a stereo perched just a few feet from the fields where Valdosta State's players run through drills. Along the sideline, a scout from the Chicago Bears surveys the field, a clipboard tucked under his arm. He is not here to see Greg Reid.
There is a buzz surrounding Reid, no question. During his first day of practice with the Blazers, wide receivers scuffled for the chance to go against him, wanting to test their mettle against the local kid who made it big and then lost it all.
After three years in garnet and gold, Reid's untucked black jersey looks incongruous, save the No. 24, which he wore in high school. But his energy on the field is the same. During special teams drills, he comes off the edge to block a field goal, then darts down the field, leaps into the air and chest bumps a teammate in celebration. A few reps later, Reid just misses a second block, landing face down on the synthetic turf, slapping the ground in frustration.
There are others here with NFL dreams, too, like the hefty linemen the scout has come to see. But Reid has tasted it, come so close to making it reality, looked into his future and seen the pros and the paychecks and a way out of the endless cycle of mistakes that has defined his reputation among the thousands who know his name but do not know him.
Outside of Florida State, Reid is all reputation, but he is not here to earn top billing on a Division II roster or assert dominance as the biggest fish in Valdosta's small pond.
This is Greg Reid's last chance.
• • •
Reid does not think he deserves to be here, but that doesn't mean he's not appreciative. That was the first thing Valdosta State coach David Dean needed to know.
"Maybe that was just the right thing to say," Dean said. "But I genuinely think he really believes that. That's what he really wants."
That's the same thing that brought him back to Tallahassee in January after he toyed with the idea of entering the NFL draft. Instead, Reid returned for his senior season, lamented past mistakes, preached about maturity, and offered hope for a final season with the Seminoles that would determine his legacy.
He wanted to leave Florida State as a conquering champion. Instead, Reid's final day in Tallahassee was spent offering tearful apologies to the teammates he knew he'd let down.
"I wanted to show the nation and show everybody that Florida State was a great program," Reid said. "But stuff happened."
The arrest report tells the story of a man who has seen his share of trouble and knows the drill.
Reid was pulled over near Valdosta on July 10 when a Georgia State patrol officer noticed the heavily tinted windows on his white Mercury Grand Marquis. Reid was driving on a suspended license, the result of four unpaid traffic tickets that Reid told the officer he was sure he'd "taken care of." A search of the vehicle uncovered an emptied cigar and a small amount of marijuana. Reid assured the officer it wasn't his, but admitted there hadn't been a passenger in his car for days. Reid was asked if he wanted to take his cell phone from the car, but he declined. The last time he was taken to jail, less than a year earlier, his phone was never returned.
• • •
Three weeks passed before Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher called Reid into his office. The silence in the interim had offered a false sense of security. Reid believed he'd get a slap on the wrist, but he hoped the worst was over.
"We had a good conversation," Fisher said. "A sad conversation."
Fisher told his senior cornerback, a three-year starter on the verge of setting the school's all-time record for punt return yardage, that he was being dismissed from the team. Fisher's hands were tied, he said. Reid had run afoul of team rules too many times.
Reid was angry, helpless.
"I said, 'If it isn't up to you, I want to talk to the man who it's up to,' " Reid said. "Because they weren't going to talk to me."
A meeting was set with athletics director Randy Spetman, but the appeal was futile. The decision was final.
"We just talked, and it was very emotional," Reid said. "I wanted them to learn from this. That was the main thing is just to get them to open up their eyes a little bit and understand there's not too many opportunities out there, especially for me."
• • •
For the next week, Reid rarely thought about football.
There had to be a next step, another field he could call home, but the concept of leaving Florida State was too much to grasp.
"Once I committed to Florida State and signed that paper, that's the only team I wanted to play for," he said.
Reid looked into a handful of Division II schools -- the highest-level program he could transfer to without sitting out a season according to NCAA rules -- but he knew little about those teams other than what he could discern from a Google search.
So Reid returned to the one place that offered familiarity, visiting Valdosta State during the Blazers' lone closed practice of the fall. He assured Dean that he wasn't interested in using Valdosta State as a tune-up for the NFL, and he insisted he had learned from his mistakes.
Still, Dean was concerned. He called Fisher, and his defensive coordinator texted Mark Stoops, but they got no response. It wasn't a matter of disloyalty, Fisher said. Reid hadn't asked for his release from Florida State, and the Seminoles' coaching staff was barred from comment.
This has become the norm for Reid: His best efforts to move forward, hampered by his unwillingness to let go.
"I don't think I got a fair shot," Reid said. "But now I've got a transition."
• • •
On the field, things aren't much different at Valdosta State.
The voices are new, but the lessons are the same. There are small tweaks to the technique and scheme, but the drills feel familiar.
"It's football," Reid said. "Of course, none of the coaches here are like Jimbo."
There is no way to rebuild three years of familiarity in just a few weeks, but Valdosta provides something close, and perhaps that's the biggest concern for those who still care about Reid, who want to see him move on from the self-inflicted wounds that have sabotaged his career.
Aside from football, few things have come easily for Reid. He grew up in a home stained by abuse. His father went to jail for dealing drugs. His career and, for all practical purposes, his life, were salvaged by a high school English teacher who took him in, pushed him to work harder, offered him hope for something better.
Florida State was supposed to be the happy ending to Reid's story, but instead he's back home, back in Valdosta where the demons of his past still live.
Reid is not ignorant to the possibilities. This place offers both salvation and temptation.
"It's just me growing up and being mature," he said. "I can do things the right way and show people I can handle myself. I just have to grow up and be mature."
Reid has enrolled in classes -- not just the coursework he needs to stay eligible for football, but credits that will transfer back to Florida State, where he still hopes to earn a degree.
After practice, he returns to the home of his former English teacher, Andrea Bridges. He gets a home-cooked meal, and he plays with Bridges' young son. High school football season is under way, too, and Reid plans to attend as many games at Lowndes County as he can.
This isn't how he'd pictured his senior season, but there are worse ways for the story to end.
"It's not that bad," Reid said. "It's just playing football and making the best out of it."
• • •
Back at Florida State, Reid's presence is not being whitewashed by a new season. He is spoken of often, his absence felt. Quarterback EJ Manuel calls Reid "a fallen brother."
After just a few days at Valdosta State, Dean could see the walls Reid had built, understand the depths of his distrust. But inside Florida State's locker room, Reid was among family.
There, he wasn't the troubled kid from Valdosta with the checkered past and the bad reputation. He was a leader, a teammate, a brother.
"I'm not going to say I grew up rough," Reid said. "But everybody knows me. I'm a great guy. I don't try to brag about it. But I just love football. That's what people will remember me for. I'm not selfish or anything. I play from the heart, and I try to get people better. That's the main reason a lot of people respect me from the school."
Reid pauses, considers his words.
There is an answer to a question he has not been asked, but it overwhelms him anyway.
What he has lost is not status or reputation, a chance at records or championships or NFL dollars, but rather the one thing he's always wanted more than football.
It's something Reid hopes to find again in the only other place where there are people who really know him.
"I mean, yeah, I miss it if that's what you're asking," Reid said. "I miss it. But most importantly I miss my teammates. I check on them. I call them every day just to see how things are going."