SE: K-State DB D.J. Reed Relishing Second Division I Opportunity

D.J. Reed questioned himself. He was losing his passion and his path in life. Faced with a critical crossroad, he couldn’t figure out which way to turn. 

One direction led him down a life without football. The other was filled with plenty of unknowns and possibly more disappointment.  

“I was thinking, ‘This is really tough. Is this really for me?’ I really questioned myself,” Reed said of leaving Fresno State’s football program after one year. “That day I chose. I could either stop playing, basically quit, or try another route to keep going to what I want to do, to keep achieving my dream.”

Reed played out his options over and over in his mind. 

What was best for him? What was best for his future? A conversation with a close friend, however, turned him toward his eventual decision. 

“I just told him, ‘I’m not feeling this anymore. Football is no fun to me anymore. I’m losing my passion for the game,’ and he told me, ‘It’s alright. You’re at a DI institution, you’re not the only one going through this. You just have to find a way to get through it. God has this plan for you to keep pushing for it,’ and that really helped me when he told me that. I just have to keep pushing forward,” Reed said. “I could have chosen the route to quit, but I knew that wasn’t the type of person I was, the type of person my mom raised me to be, so I chose the other option and I’m happy I chose that route.”

K-State fans, coaches and players should be too, as Reed is now a starting cornerback for the Wildcats’ defense that ranks first in the nation in yards allowed per game. 

“He’s doing a great job,” senior nickelback Donnie Starks said of Reed, a sophomore. “He’s a great guy, great to work with, a smart player and he knows what it takes to become better and knows what it takes to play at this level.”

Reed always envisioned playing at the Division I level, but until his senior year of high school he wanted to do so in basketball.

“Throughout high school I was more focused on basketball,” said Reed, the first athlete at his school to earn MVP honors in both football and basketball. 

Reed took a reminder from his brother to heart, that a college career in football was more likely than in basketball, given his height at 5-foot-9. Even in football, he’s been constantly reminded of his size and how it wouldn’t translate at the Division I level.   

“I’ve been told that a lot, and I play with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I know I’m not the tallest guy, but I can hold my own when I play corner.” 

To overcome his physical disadvantage, Reed uses a few natural talents. These range from his quickness to his physicality to his jumping ability, the last of which he said stems from his basketball days and helped him snag his first career interception at K-State. 

“It was what I was dreaming about,” he said of the interception against Florida Atlantic. “I think about picks when I’m just at home, when I’m just relaxing. When you love something, you think about it even when you’re not doing it.”

K-State head coach Bill Snyder and his coaching staff loved one specific trait about Reed in the recruiting phase. 

“His aggressive play,” Snyder said. “He could defend well against the run, he was able to play off blocks, and he tackles the ball carriers very aggressively. That hasn’t changed since he’s been there.”

Long before he arrived at K-State, Reed was a standout player at Independence High School in Bakersfield, California, snagging six interceptions, forcing five fumbles and totaling 1,150 yards of total offense during his career. 

Still, he received zero Division I offers to play football. 

So, Reed walked on at Fresno State with the hopes of earning a scholarship. When it didn’t happen after his redshirt season, he decided to leave. Upon choosing to continue chasing a life in football, Reed landed at Cerritos College, a community college in California where he collected 42 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions in one season there. 

K-State entered the picture for Reed shortly after his season with Cerritos, where current Wildcat defensive lineman Ray Price also played. After an official visit in Manhattan, Reed said he cancelled the rest of his scheduled visits, including Miami, Arkansas and Nebraska. 

“K-State offered me and I talked to Coach Snyder, a really cool guy. His first impression was very good,” Reed said. “I really liked him because he didn’t even talk about football. He just talked to me about life and he seemed really nice. He genuinely cared about me, so that’s a big part of why I’m here.”

Two years ago, Reed wasn’t sure where he was headed or what he would do. “Hard work and dedication,” he said, helped him navigate his journey. 

“Having a chip on my shoulder and doing the little things, such as eating right and working out harder than everybody else,” he said, “doing stuff that normal people wouldn’t do.”

Reed credits his work ethic to his mother, Linda Reed. 

“She just always encourages me. I saw her work two jobs growing up, so I knew what hard work was early on,” he said. “My mom displays the characteristics of hard work, doing the little things to get better. She’s been there from day one. Just knowing that I have her, I really don’t need anybody else.”

Moving two time zones away definitely wasn’t easy for Reed, who said he spent the first two months in Manhattan homesick. His new teammates, specifically seniors in Dante Barnett and Starks, helped him through it. 

“They’re just cool people. When you have people around you that are like you,” Reed said, “that helps you adapt to the environment.”

On the field, Reed has helped solidify K-State’s secondary. Through three games, he has one of the Wildcats’ three interceptions while also leading the team in passes broken up. 

“He’s a competitive young guy,” Snyder said. “He really is diligent in processing what you try to feed him, a very coachable young guy and a guy that can run well.”

He’s also a player who no longer doubts himself, questions his passion or wonders what would have happened if he turned the other direction and quit the game. 

“Now I feel like I really belong and I can play against anybody. I feel like I can play with the best of them,” he said. “Some players at Fresno call me and just tell me how happy they are for me, how proud they are of me. It feels good to know that I’m in the Big 12 Conference now. It feels really good knowing that I achieved that.”

Reed will get his first taste of Big 12 action at West Virginia, which boasts the 13th-best total offense (533 yards per game) in the nation, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (CT), on ESPNU. 

“I’m really looking forward to the challenges,” he said of entering conference play. “I just love competing. When they throw the ball my way, I’ll make plays. I just have to play how Coach (Tom) Hayes wants me to play and let the game come to me. 

“When the game does come to me, I just have to make plays.”