An interested observer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- That last game against Florida, the final one Florida State's senior class would play on its home field, was a celebration for those who'd made it, a group that endured a coaching change and a rebirth to stand on the precipice of a conference title. Before kickoff, each senior's name was announced, and fans offered one final gesture of gratitude.

Greg Reid's name wasn't called. There was no applause from the crowd or handshake from his coach. But he was there.

"My main focus wasn't just to watch the game in the stands," Reid said, "but to get that feeling on senior day."

As much as any member of the departing Florida State senior class, Reid's impact has been felt. He was the vocal leader in the locker room for three years, the spark that ignited the team on the field. He was one of Bobby Bowden's final recruiting coups, and he was one of Jimbo Fisher's favorite players.

Before his senior campaign could begin, however, he was kicked off the team following an arrest in his hometown of Valdosta, Ga., an ignominious conclusion to a once bright career.

Reid eventually landed at Division II Valdosta State, but even that consolation prize failed to materialize. Days before the start of the 2012 season, he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Reid spent an autumn away from the football field.

It gave him time to think.

"I'm glad that -- not that it happened, but that I had that experience of not playing football," Reid said. "It's a reminder of how much it means to me. It's helped me. It's made me look at a lot of stuff differently."

Reid announced this week he would enter the NFL draft, foregoing a chance at a medical redshirt. That night in Tallahassee, sitting in the stands watching his old team fight against its rival, was his curtain call.

After five months away from FSU and four months away from the field, Reid is eager to put the past behind him and move on to the next challenge. The injury simply has delayed the process.

"Once you start playing football again, everybody starts to forget about all the old things," Reid said.

He hasn't forgotten, but he insists he has tried to learn from them.

Without football, Reid spent the season as a passionate observer. It was a role he was unfamiliar with and uncomfortable embracing. Being a fan, he lamented to his former teammates, is an arduous task.

"It's different when you come to a game and prepare for a game like fan, and you know what we're doing," said linebacker Telvin Smith, Reid's teammate at both Lowndes Co. High School and FSU. "When you know what they're in the locker room doing, when they walk off the bus -- he said, 'Man, just to be there is great.' That's why I think he'll come back with a different head on his shoulders, because he better understands what the game means to him."

Reid only attended a couple of Florida State games this season, but he was paying attention.

"I never missed a game," he said. "I sat on my couch and watched every game. It was very emotional, but it was also very exciting seeing my boys."

His absence was noticeable on special teams. Florida State struggled all season to find a punt returner who simply could hold on to the football, let alone create the same type of magic Reid had conjured so often.

Things went more smoothly in the secondary. Sophomore Nick Waisome stepped into Reid's former role and blossomed. That came as no surprise to Reid, as he expected Waisome to compete for time. After he was dismissed, Reid spoke with Waisome's parents and assured them their son would become a star.

The locker room is where Reid's absence was felt the most though. Safety Lamarcus Joyner raved about Waisome's play, too, but no one could replace Reid's voice, he said. It was Reid's leadership that helped ease the transition from those final struggles under Bowden to this season's ACC title -- even if Reid wasn't around to see it through.

"Hopefully my class was the start of something big," Reid said.

Reid is hoping to make it to Miami to see his old team play in the Discover Orange Bowl. He has been rehabbing his knee for months, and he's hopeful he'll be able to participate in individual workouts for NFL teams. He has credited NFL star Adrian Peterson's astonishing recovery from a similar injury as inspiration, though he admits that's a tough act to follow. Still, his former teammates wouldn't be surprised if Reid returns in better shape than he'd been in before.

"He's a competitor," Smith said. "If there's something going against him, he takes it on very tough. I feel like he's going to come back stronger than when he left and with a better mind on his shoulders than a lot of people think."

Reid said he has no idea where he might be drafted -- or if he'll be selected at all. But after so much time away from the game he loves, he insists the final destination doesn't matter.

"Right now, I feel like if I get the opportunity to step on anybody's team, I feel like I can work it out," Reid said. "I'm not worried about how high or the round. I just want to be able to play football."

Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Losing Florida State -- and losing football -- is not how Reid envisioned his college career ending. For the sake of his future though, it was exactly how it had to happen.

"I know the type of person I am, and I know this injury will get better," Reid said. "Everything happened to make me really understand what I have."