By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia (CBS)—John Reid sat there absorbing everything, attentive, leaning forward, embracing every word and feeling connected. Very connected. This is eventually where he wants to be, he thought to himself. But on this late-July afternoon, he received some validation, a sneak peak into a future that could be his, possibly playing one day for the very coach that was addressing him.
The gifted St. Joe’s Prep 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior cornerback was called into the office of Nick Saban, coach of the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. Saban’s staff liked what they saw from Reid at the Crimson Tide camp, one of five major camps Reid attended this summer (along with Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and West Virginia).
So in their due diligence, Saban’s staff called in Reid, along with Prep coach Gabe Infante, to speak with the nation’s most successful college football coach.
Playing one day for Alabama, LSU, Penn State, Ohio State, Rutgers, Colorado or West Virginia is where Reid would eventually like to be. Though it was something Saban said that struck Reid and imbued a greater incentive to improve.
“Coach Saban told me he wasn’t able to watch me with everything, but what he did see he liked—and he told me my height wasn’t going to be an issue at all playing cornerback at the Division I level,” said Reid, who’s run a 4.3-second 40 this summer. “I know a lot of people say they like their corners over 6-foot, but to hear one of the best coaches in the country say that height won’t be an issue was great to hear.”
Actually, anyone who’s ever saw Reid play knows height won’t matter. He passes the eye test in glowing colors. Penn State would love to have him now. By this time next year, Reid, considered one of the best juniors in the country, one of the state’s top players and the best player in Southeastern Pennsylvania, will have his choice of prime schools to play for at the next level.
As for improving, Reid doesn’t need prodding, even from Saban. It seems that’s in his DNA. Infante one time mentioned to Reid he didn’t like the way he caught the ball. The next day, Reid was at Prep snaring pass after pass off a Jugs machine. Two years ago, he bypassed his eighth-grade graduation ceremony to attend Boston College’s camp. There, he impressed the BC coaches so much they asked Reid to participate with the high school group as a demonstration player, showing the others what proper technique was.
This season, Reid may play some safety, and one of the first things he asked Infante was how different dissecting the route tree will be from that area of the field. He’s joined Prep’s 1,000-pound total club as a junior, a rare feat, able to bench press 290 pounds, squat 440 and clean 270.
“John is very, very special,” Infante said. “Not many high school juniors get pulled into Coach Saban’s office to meet with him one-on-one. That’s how special John is. The best thing I can say about him is if there is a weakness in John’s game, you can tell him and he’ll attack it. I told him a few years ago I didn’t like the way he caught the football, now you watch, John will be one of the best wideouts you’ll see.
“The thing you forget is John is still a kid. We try to put a bubble around our kids and let them grow at their own rate. I want John to grow in his own time and in his own way. We want him to be patient—and he is patient. The amazing thing is John is like a young professional in how he breaks down the game. It’s like a vocation. He’s driven internally. He’ll come to coaches and ask what he needs to do better—he won’t wait for a coach to come to him. Speaking to Coach Saban was a realization for John.”
Reid will take on a greater role this season in Prep’s offense. The Hawks were a loaded, explosive team last year, resulting in Reid getting only 34 touches, according to TedSilary.com. This year, expect that number to grow, though the Hawks do return stellar running back Olamide Zaccheaus, a potential 1,000-yard rusher, along with an experienced skill corps.
Also, Reid will be looked upon as a leader these next two years. He started as a freshman and contributed. Last year as a sophomore, the game-breaking ability emerged—now this season Infante is asking Reid to speak up and carry the Hawks on and off the field as a leader.
This marks an interesting year for Reid and Prep. Since the Philadelphia Catholic League joined the PIAA, the state governing body of high school sports, in 2008 the Hawks have never made the state playoffs. La Salle, five-time Catholic League and 2009 state champs, has always stood in Prep’s way.
That won’t be any different this season.
What will be different is that the Hawks have transformed from the hunters to the hunted.
Reid’s primary objective as a team captain is to be a goalie and deflect. Repel any talk or idea how good Prep is expected to be, and deflate any notion that he’s a special player.
“I know I’m going to be counted on to lead more this year,” Reid said. “I like it. I like it when I don’t have to come off the field, either. We have to be better and we have to be a family. If I mess up, someone jumps on me. I want someone to jump on me, they better—and not one of the coaches. We all have to be held accountable to each other. The biggest thing for us is we can’t think too far ahead.
“As a team, we’re trying to become more mature and have tunnel vision. I can’t worry about what people say about my team or me. We never focus on ratings or anything like that. But we’re not where we want to be. We haven’t accomplished anything. La Salle is still the Catholic League champs, and we have so much stuff to work on. The goals are simple—reach excellence.”
While reaching Reid will be a high priority for Saban, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and anyone else that want to see Reid playing for them in 2015.
“I really liked Alabama, and if they gave me an offer, yes, I would have to think about going there, it’s one of the greatest programs in the country,” Reid said. “I’m not ruling anything out. I liked all the schools I visited this summer. I’m still a big LSU fan, but I didn’t tell Coach Saban that though. I also liked Penn State, and that it’s close to home, where my family and my coaches can still come and see me play. That’s a big deal to me.”
His role will change considerably this season for Prep, though one thing will continue: Reid will be a big deal to prospective college football coaches, including the one on top of the foodchain.