More than just a kick return

A knee injury after his rookie season left former USF standout JR Reed’s NFL career in doubt. Two season after the injury, Reed has returned to the Philadelphia Eagles and hopes to return to the Super Bowl. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

In a split second, JR Reed’s career in NFL appeared to be over.

After helping the Philadelphia Eagles reach the Super Bowl as a rookie in 2004, Reed was told he would never play again after

suffering a freak injury at his home in Tampa.

Reed, who played safety at USF from 2000 to 2003, was jumping over a fence and cut the peroneal nerve in back of his knee, severely limiting the movement of his lower leg and foot.

For Reed, who finished the 2004 campaign as the top kick returner in the league with an average of 23.1 yards per return, the biggest concern was being able to walk without dragging his feet again.

Immediately following surgery on his left leg, Reed was ready to give up his career after only one season.

“The doctors told me that I would never play again,” Reed said. “I went to rehab for a week and I stopped because it was so discouraging. You can’t rehab nerve damage, so I said ‘Forget it,’ but then I just started lifting weights on my own.”

Reed sat out the 2005

season and completed his degree in management information systems at Rowan University and Temple University – though he quickly added that his official degree was from USF – and started making plans for his life after football.

As Reed searched for his new career, a meeting with

orthopedist Dr. John Swoyer

revitalized his playing career. Swoyer designed a special brace to help compensate Reed’s

inability to lift his left foot, and he began rehabilitation again.

“He’s certainly one of the toughest players we’ve ever had, and for him to come back off that knee injury is remarkable,” Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said.

“The biggest thing is he never gave up,” USF defensive

coordinator Wally Burnham said. “He said at the time of the injury that he was going to make it back, one way or the other. He had to sacrifice a lot of time and effort to come back from that.”

Even though the brace cut down on his speed, he generated enough interest from teams to return to the NFL. The St. Louis Rams gave Reed his first opportunity, and he returned 17 kicks in six games for an average of 20.4 yards.

After the Rams cut him, Atlanta signed him, but Reed never appeared in a

contest for the Falcons. At the

beginning of training camp he was briefly reunited with former USF

linebacker Kawika Mitchell, but was released by the New York Giants after only 10 days in training camp.

As NFL teams were making their final cuts before the start of the season, Eagles coach Andy Reid decided to bring the 25-year-old back on the team as a kick returner and the primary backup to Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins.

“Returning to Philadelphia is definitely the best thing for me. My injury isn’t in

question because they know what I can do. It’s hard to go to work everyday and have everyone ask you if you’re OK because of the

injury,” Reed said. “I’m back with the Eagles – it’s like being back with the Bulls – I’m home.”

Joining Philadelphia meant three former USF players now resided in the NFC East. Mitchell is in his first season with the Giants, Reed with the Eagles and cornerback Anthony Henry has spent the past two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

All three teams have bitter rivalries, and Reed will have to face two of his former

teammates twice a year.

“We’ll still be friends because we’re all on defense, so we really don’t have to go against each other,” Reed said. “But I think it’s good to have all three of us in the same division.”

Although Reed was supposed to be the kickoff returner for Philadelphia, he was inserted as a punt returner during the season opener against the Green Bay Packers, filling in for Greg Lewis, who dropped a kick earlier in the contest.

Serving in an unfamiliar role, Reed muffed a punt allowing the Packers to kick a game-winning field goal.

Even though his mistake was costly, Reed’s ability to quickly rebound will serve him well as he tries to accomplish the lofty goals he set after signing with the Eagles.

“I’m the starting kick returner and I want to go to the Pro Bowl doing that. That’s really what I’m focusing on,” Reed said.

Despite the slow start to his 2007 season, Reed’s former coaches think doubting him again would be a grave mistake.

“He’s certainly making his mark in the NFL. He led the NFL in kickoff returns his rookie year,” Leavitt said. “He probably will (make the Pro Bowl).”

Burnham also believes in Reed’s talent.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he did make the Pro Bowl,” Burnham said. “I think he is one of those rare guys that can do that tough job. If he thinks he can do it, then he probably will.”