ATHENS — When J.R. Reed transferred to Georgia from Tulsa last summer, coach Kirby Smart told Reed he was going to be tough on him. And Smart has been tough on him ever since. Really tough.
That has been just fine with Reed. In fact, he likes it.
“My dad was tough on me, too, growing up,” Reed said with a laugh after the Bulldogs’ practice on Thursday. “So, I know that it comes from love and when [Smart’s] coaching, I know he doesn’t mean any harm.”
Yeah, toughness runs in Reed’s family. You might have heard of his dad, Jake Reed, who played 12 years in the NFL as a receiver. Or perhaps his uncle, Dale Carter, who played defensive back for the Tennessee Volunteers before embarking on a 13-year NFL career.
So it’s going to be hard to out-tough Reed’s own family. And that toughness and physicality is just one reason Reed finds himself in position to start in the Bulldogs’ secondary in 2017.
Reed, a redshirt sophomore from Texas, transferred to Georgia from Tulsa before the 2016 season. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound defensive back sat out last season via the NCAA’s transfer rule, but is in the Bulldogs’ plans to play this year.
“Sitting out last year made me a lot more hungry,” Reed said in his first interview as a member of the Bulldogs on Thursday. “Seeing some of the games, really being in the stands, watching the Tennessee game and seeing the games that we lost and being there with my mom and dad, I’m just thinking, ‘You know, that could be me’.”
This case of FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out — is what propelled Reed into this season. It has been a long time coming for this versatile defensive back, who has been getting looks at both the safety and star position for the Bulldogs.
It’s what he envisioned when he decided to leave Tulsa.
“I was looking for a place because I wanted to leave Tulsa,” Reed said. “I heard about Coach Smart and [defensive coordinator] Coach [Mel] Tucker and the rest of the coaching staff. I reached out to them and they just kept in contact and that is just how it is.”
After arriving at Georgia last August, Reed began to work on the scout team. This past spring, he began making waves in the Georgia secondary.
Despite his pedigree — teammate Deangelo Gibbs also is Reed’s cousin — Smart has said he wasn’t really sure what kind of player they were getting.
“I knew he was a really good athlete; I knew he was fast,” Smart said. “We didn’t know much. We just heard from his coaches and they all said he was a good player. We were deficient in that area, and he’s turned out to be probably the best decision we’ve made from the standpoint of transfers, junior college players.”
Reed said it was difficult to show the coaches much while he was sitting out.
“On scout team, you can’t really show much of your skills because you are doing scout team stuff. You aren’t really doing many of the plays,” Reed said. “When I came in the spring I knew what I really had in store.”
One of the surprising facets of Reed’s game is his quickness. It is something he thinks people weren’t expecting out of him. Paired with his willingness to be physical, it has made Reed a force in the secondary.
“I like the physicality of it,” Reed said of playing safety. “Once you learn how to hit you figure out, ‘Hey, I kind of like this’.”
Reed’s presence and development became even more important this week. Starting cornerback Malkom Parrish has been sidelined for several weeks with a foot injury, which temporarily, at least, has moved experienced senior Aaron Davis out of the rotation with the safeties and stars and into a cornerback role. Reed has gotten work at both safety and the star, or nickelback.
So you can definitely expect to see Reed on the field in 2017. And you can expect him to play hungry after that year on the scout team. If it taught him anything, it’s to keep up the grind.
“The coaches told me that if I work hard then I always have a chance,” Reed said. “So when I came in that was my mindset. On scout team, I really gave it my all, and Coach Smart told me to do that. Then in the spring I just went ahead and grinded out.”
It’s a toughness that runs in the family.