D.J. Reed started his college football career as a walk-on, spent a season in junior college and arrived at Kansas State two years ago as an unheralded defensive back.
Now he’s a NFL prospect.
The unconventional path he took to this point makes this a special week for Reed. It wasn’t that long ago that he thought about quitting the sport as freshman at Fresno State and worried he might not make it to a power conference as an unknown juco recruit at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif. But he came into his own as a starter and captain at K-State and figures to be the first Wildcat selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.
“I am very happy at how far I came,” Reed said in a phone interview. “I look back and just say, ‘Wow.’ There were times when I wanted to quit at Fresno State, just forget football and do something else. I thought I wasn’t good enough. It’s really just motivating to be where I am now. Can’t quit, can’t lose, just keep working and get better — my journey shows perseverance.”
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Reed expects to be selected in either the fourth or fifth round of the NFL Draft, which means he will likely hear his name called on Saturday. The draft begins Thursday with the first round, and continues Friday with rounds two and three.
A handful of teams have shown high interest in Reed. He said he has worked out for the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. Those meetings all took place after the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds.
“I feel like my film speaks for itself,” Reed said. “You can kind of tell the player I am — a high-energy playmaker. What you are going to get is a guy who is going to be a leader inside and outside of the locker room. This is how I provide for my family, so I take football very seriously. I do all the little things some players don’t.”
It wasn’t easy turning himself into a NFL hopeful from his humble beginnings, especially with a 5-foot-9 frame. But Reed jumped into the conversation at K-State as both a cover corner and a kick returner. His size was never an issue.
First, he rose to the top of the depth chart at corner, where he was one of the best defenders in the Big 12. During his two years in Manhattan, Reed piled up 125 tackles and seven interceptions while defending 25 passes.
Then, as a senior, he also thrived as a return man. Reed formed one of the nation’s most dangerous return tandems playing alongside Byron Pringle. He went on to top 1,000 return yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
“A lot of teams want me to return, as well as play slot corner in the NFL,” Reed said. “I am very open to that.”
Moving to the slot will be new for Reed, but it’s a change he has already embraced. Last season, he openly suggested he could help the Wildcats by shadowing the other team’s top receiver, even in the slot, rather than exclusively focus on one side of the field.
“At slot corner, you have got to know more of the defense. Where is your help coming from? Where is not coming from?” Reed said. “But it feels fun. You are closer to the ball. I have quick feet and I have great awareness. I think I am going to do very well there.”
Reed became such a versatile playmaker that he chose to declare for the NFL Draft as a junior, rather than return to K-State for his senior season.
But that decision was based on more than draft potential.
“When I declared I wasn’t really worried about what round I would be drafted in, because I knew how good I was and how good I can be,” Reed said. “It was more about me just wanting to help out my mom. She is my everything. She has been working the same job (at a career services center in Bakersfield, Calif.) for over 30 years. I want to take some weight off her shoulders. That was the main reason I left.”
Reed has come a long way since his days at Fresno State and his pit stop in junior college. He helped K-State win 17 games and a pair of bowls. Now he’s ready to take another step.
His journey continues.
“I have gotten better at every stop,” Reed said, “and that’s not going to change when I get to the NFL.”