NFL prospect relied on his strengths

Indiana University football player Jake Reed sat patiently with his parents as they waited for the end of the April 28 to 30, 2016, NFL Draft, hoping to receive a phone call.

An Atlanta Falcons evaluation and a phone conversation with the offensive lineman from Columbus North gave Reed a reason to believe the team was interested in signing him.

“The O-line coach called me and said they liked what they saw,” Reed said.

It was an opening, but there were no commitments on a free-agent offer that would come after the draft.

Hoosier teammate Jordan Howard was picked by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round, but Reed would have to wait for 153 more names to be announced before it was his time — after the Tennessee Titans ended the draft with the 253rd pick.

The phone rang with an offer to play professional football with the Atlanta Falcons. That was expected. But the phone rang a second time, and this time it was the Kansas City Chiefs.

That meant choices.

“The Falcons called me first, and after talking with my agent, we both had already agreed that would be a good spot for me,” Reed said. “You look at their O-line situation and what their roster is looking like. We thought the Falcons sounded like a good chance for me to make the team.”

A year earlier, Reed would not have guessed an NFL path would be an option.

Reed had joined the IU team as a tight end but switched to offensive line midway through his second season. He didn’t see much of the field until his redshirted junior year where he started at center in four of the seven games he played. Reed made Academic All Big-Ten that year, but still did not see himself as an NFL-caliber player.

That began to change during his senior year at IU.

Reed started all 13 games at center as a senior, helping lead the Hoosiers to single-season records in total points, total yards, passing yards and first downs.

“It was my senior year, honestly, when I thought maybe I stood a chance,” he said of making it to the NFL.

Rather than later facing regrets if he didn’t pursue the opportunity, Reed decided he was game for the chance.

“Luckily I did, because I got a shot,” he said.

TRAINING CAMP

In less than two weeks after he was contacted by the Falcons, Reed was traveling to Flowery Branch, Georgia, to start training camp.

Reed stayed busy trying to learn an entire playbook in a couple of weeks while competing for a spot against players who have been in the Falcons system for several years.

Getting up for 7 a.m. meetings and ending his day at night gave Reed had no time for extra activities. The fear of getting behind on what Reed felt was a complicated offense kept him and his roommate from spending their time on anything other than football.

“It was a lot to take in at first,” Reed said. “Luckily, I had a good roommate and he was willing to work and we just gave it our all.”

Reed said he was able to grow as a player and person throughout his five years at Indiana, a time when he met a lot of people that impacted his life.

He forged relationships with individuals in the Falcons organization as well, but there was a big difference between college and the pro’s. One bad game or a tough week of practice could end his hopes of making a 53-man roster for a professional football team.

“In college, you’re signed to your school and you’re there for the duration of your eligibility,” Reed said. “When you get to the NFL, you’ll see guys get cut every week. There is just this sense of pressure … people bounce up and down on the depth chart. It’s just kind of hard to tell where you stand.”

Reed found himself in a good enough position to make it to his first preseason game against the Washington Redskins. He played on the field goal team for the second half of the game and got playing time at center in the fourth quarter.

Reed was glad he made it as far as he did with the Falcons, but an injury on the first practice after the game would send him on different career path.

Reed was participating in the Falcons bag drill where players hold a bag until it is their turn to step in. A teammate was driving Reed back and blocking him during the drill when he heard a pop at the bottom of his foot. It wasn’t until he tried to take a step and could not put any weight on his foot when he realized something was wrong.

Reed later found out that he tore his plantar fascia, putting him on crutches and leaving the Falcons with a decision to make. They offered him an injury settlement, which Reed decided to take.

That way, he could get back home, start recovering and think about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

“The Falcons are just really classy on how they handle everybody,” Reed said. “They gave me an appropriate settlement for my injury.”

MOVING FORWARD

Back in Columbus, Reed stayed on crutches for two months before making his next move. With a degree in kinesiology, Reed had aspirations of one day becoming a coach — and had developed a connection along the way he knew might open such a door.

That relationship was with one of the IU strength coaches, Mark Hill. Reed got to know Hill and others well while participating in a summer internship with the Indiana coaches as an undergrad.

“Being a strength coach is almost a different outlet for players,” Reed said. “They want you to perform well, but ultimately that’s not their job. They care about the players and they just want to see them improve in the weight room and be healthy. My strength coaches meant a lot to me, so I think it would be rewarding if I could have that kind of relationship with other players.”

Hill left IU after Reed’s senior year and got a job as a strength coach at the University of Kentucky.

When Reed began looking at coaching options, he contacted Hill, who offered him a post-graduate internship which Reed accepted.

Becoming a certified strength coach requires passing a three-part test. Reed will be studying for it while interning at Kentucky.

While his NFL career was short-lived, his potential coaching journey is just beginning.

“I just decided I had a good run (as a player). I had a lot of fun, and I just decided it was time for me to focus on coaching … I’m excited for that, too.”

Jake Reed Bio

Name: Jake Reed

Age: 24

Height and Weight: 6-4, 288 pounds

Position: Offensive linemen (center)

College: Indiana University

Pro team: Atlanta Falcons

Desired Profession: Coach

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.