The chances of Joe Reitz lumbering into the end zone for a touchdown during his NFL playing career are slim.
It simply doesn’t come with the position. As starting left guard for the Indianapolis Colts, Reitz’s paycheck is earned protecting quarterback Andrew Luck and helping pave running alleys for Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Delone Carter and sometimes even Luck himself.
If fate were to someday bounce the pigskin off the playing surface and into Reitz’s meaty embrace, feel free to anticipate the possibility of the 6-foot-7, 322-pound Fishers native attempting to slam dunk the pigskin over the goalpost’s crossbar.
Can’t be done? Oh, yes it can.
Before he wore No. 76 for the Colts, Reitz, 27, modeled No. 42 for Western Michigan University’s men’s basketball program at an advertised playing weight of 256 pounds. For four years the Kalamazoo Kid dunked, rebounded, buried the midrange jumper, swatted away shots. Dominated, in other words.
Five years and 66 pounds later, the kid still insists he has hops.
“I can still dunk. It might not be pretty, but I can,” said Reitz, a walking double-double at Western Michigan who averaged 15 points and 7.9 rebounds as a senior in 2007-08 after going 13.9 and 8.6 the previous season. “A couple of guys on the (Colts) say they want to challenge me to some one-on-one games after the season.”
In case you’re curious, a football crossbar is exactly 10 feet above the ground, same as a basketball goal.
And you know what they say about attitude leading to altitude.
“Oh, yeah. He could (dunk over a crossbar). There’s no doubt about that,” said 12th-year Hamilton Southeastern boys basketball coach Brian Satterfield, whose teams were 48-21 with Reitz in the starting lineup from 2001-04. “Joe wasn’t a freakish athlete, but from a coaching standpoint he has all the intangibles. Doing things the right way. Being a team leader. He was like having another coach on the team.”
But an NFL player who didn’t play a single down of college football? Doesn’t often happen, but what Reitz is doing isn’t unprecedented.
San Diego tight end and eight-time Pro Bowl selection Antonio Gates starred in basketball at Eastern Michigan and later Kent State without ever playing football. Likewise former Colts tight end Marcus Pollard, who hooped at Bradley University before coming to Indianapolis in 1995 as an undrafted free agent. Gates’ Chargers teammate, center Nick Hardwick, played college football at Purdue after not playing high school football at Lawrence North in Indianapolis.
Athleticism and coachability can carry a person great distances, even if it’s not to their so-called sport of choice.
Sectional to remember
No story about Reitz is worth its weight in ankle tape without mention of the Class 4A basketball sectional at Carmel High School in 2004. The reason these seven March evenings have slowly blossomed into legend the past nine years is because of the cast of characters involved:
- Broad Ripple’s star player was a 36.2-points-per-game scoreboard illuminator named George Hill. Yes, as in the Indiana Pacers’ starting guard.
- Carmel’s best player, junior forward Josh McRoberts, now plays for the Orlando Magic and is in his sixth NBA season.
- North Central’s talent-packed roster came equipped with two eventual Indiana Mr. Basketballs and Indiana University players, senior A.J. Ratliff and freshman Eric Gordon.
- Satterfield’s Royals had Joe Reitz and a talented cast of role players surrounding him.
Satterfield remembered, “We always put our best 3-point shooter and Joe on the same side of the floor. If the other team doubled down on Joe, he would just kick the ball back outside.”
Hamilton Southeastern eliminated Westfield 79-53 in the first round, then took care of Hill and the Rockets 70-66 in the semifinal round. Reitz’s final prep competition came in a 81-69 loss to North Central in the finale.
Reitz went on to be the first player from Hamilton Southeastern to be named to the Indiana All-Stars. A three-year letter winner for coach Rob Cutter’s football program at Hamilton Southeastern, he was an athlete with options.
Football programs at IU, Ball State and Miami of Ohio expressed interest in Reitz. Basketball, though, came out on top. He accepted the scholarship offer from Western Michigan knowing full well his hoops skills likely wouldn’t take him any further.
“I was aware of my physical limitations, so I knew I wasn’t going to be in the NBA,” Reitz said, laughing. “Once in a while I’ll see an old picture of myself in a basketball uniform or my wife (Jill) will show me a picture of when I weighed about 250. I even had a six-pack.”
Football it is
Ripped midsections tend to be rare among those working the trenches in the NFL. Reitz waved bye-bye to plain view of his abdominal muscles a while back as his transformation from Division I basketball player to professional football hopeful kicked in.
The Baltimore Ravens were the first NFL team to notice, signing Reitz as an undrafted free agent in 2008. The franchise thought enough of him to keep him around the following season as a practice player before he latched on with the hometown Colts in September 2010.
After the topsy-turvy ride provided Reitz by the waiver wire, the Colts signed him as a free agent in January 2011. Last season’s 2-14 disaster proved positive on one front: Reitz without barely a trace of fanfare made nine starts for Indianapolis and played in a total of 11 games.
This season he’s 15 for 15 at left guard, another youthful ingredient in the NFL’s most delicious storyline. The one about how a bevy of 20-somethings teamed with assorted veteran players and a brand new coaching staff to qualify for postseason competition a good three years ahead of schedule.
“It’s just about how quickly everybody bought in. We knew the talent we had, and this is the best locker room I’ve ever been part of,” Reitz said. “It’s about working hard every day and having great attitude and work ethic. It’s human nature where you wake up and are tired, but I try to dismiss those thoughts every day because all of us are so blessed to be playing this game.”
Commentary such as this is vintage Joe Reitz. It’s what Satterfield discovered almost immediately upon taking the Hamilton Southeastern job in 2001 when the big sophomore forward/center checked in at 6-6, 235 pounds.
“I was probably a little spoiled when I first got the coaching job here. You ask Joe to do something, and he’s going to do it. He’ll do it until he figures out how to do it the right way,” Satterfield said. “It’s always fun with Joe because when he comes back to games, people are like, ‘Is that Joe Reitz?’”
Sure is. Don’t let the goatee and lineman’s physique fool you.