Not in the game

EA Sports has an enemy in J.R. Reed.

The junior free safety lists playing PlayStation as one of his favorite hobbies, but the makers of NCAA Football 2003 must not have taken notice of Reed’s standout 2001 season.

“I’m ranked like 57 overall,” Reed said. “I have no speed. I think when it’s not a Top-25 team, top-15 team, they just put whoever anywhere. They got me at strong safety. They don’t even have me in the right position.”

While EA Sports may have overlooked Reed’s contributions last season, his numbers certainly grabbed the attention of many people. After being one of two true freshmen to play in 2000, Reed made huge strides last season.

He started all 11 games and tied Anthony Henry’s USF single season record with five interceptions. Wherever the ball was last year, Reed seemed to be around. He was third on the team with 89 tackles and blocked a punt against UConn, which was returned for a touchdown. In addition to his interceptions, Reed also forced two fumbles and recovered three, one of which he returned 63 yards for a touchdown against Houston.

“Last year was a growing year, and I had a lot to learn,” Reed said. “I had to implement it on the field. It was my first year starting. I had to mature quickly, so I didn’t have much time to be a freshman or a sophomore. I had a pretty good year, and I’m looking to double whatever I did last year and have a better year this year.”

With fifth-year seniors Bernard Brown and Joe Morgan gone from the secondary, it will be incumbent upon Reed to continue supplying the big plays while providing leadership for the new starters.

“Joe Morgan was a lot of help next to me,” Reed said. “If I needed something, he would be there for me, same way back and forth. And this year, I’m like Joe Morgan. I’m the man that they’re going to come to with questions. (Cornerback) Maurice Tucker, he’s experienced, too. And John Miller has been on the field, so we’re going to work together. We’re all the same age. We’re going to be all right. If they have any questions, I’ll be there. If I got questions, they’ll be there for me, too.”

After last season’s break-out campaign, Reed received All-Independent recognition from two publications. The Football News tabbed Reed as one of six Bulls on its preseason All-Independent Team for the upcoming season. But Reed has much bigger aspirations than just making a few all-conference teams.

“It’s exciting, but I want much more,” Reed said. “I have much higher goals than All-Independent. It’s exciting, but you have to go off of that.

“I want to see myself get as far and as high as I can. I want us to grow as a family, as a team,” Reed said. “My personal goals, I want to achieve them. Of course, everybody wants to be an All-American and advance to the next level, and hopefully I’ll be blessed to do that.”

Talk of All-American or all-conference honors seemed far-fetched when Reed came to the Bulls two years ago. A product of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Reed did everything for the Terriers as a senior, playing both ways as well as all the special teams. The team advanced all the way to the regional final that year, but college recruiters bypassed Reed in favor of his other teammates.

“I wasn’t really noticed in high school,” Reed said. “I kept bouncing from one position to the next to the next. People were uncertain of my abilities.

“Now that I’m put in one place and concentrating all my efforts towards it, people are finally seeing,” Reed said. “It feels great that people are finally noticing I have talents at certain positions on the field.”

Reed’s work ethic since he has arrived at USF has only proved his desire to show the schools that overlooked him exactly what they’re missing. Reed now possesses a 4.5 40-yard dash and bench presses 340 pounds, quite impressive for a 5-foot-11, 190-pound defensive back.

As for EA Sports, there’s always NCAA Football 2004 to recognize the improvements that Reed has made at USF. But as far as Reed’s thoughts on NCAA Football 2003 …

“I bought the game,” Reed said. “I’m going to take it back. I don’t even want it anymore. They did us no justice.”