When the opening kickoff of Super Bowl LIV sails through the air on Sunday, Linda Reed will likely be watching it through tear-soaked eyes.
With a fandom that was forged growing up in the football-crazed state of Texas, Linda says seeing the Super Bowl in person has always been "the dream of a lifetime." But when Sunday's tilt between Kansas City and San Francisco kicks off, it's not the fulfillment of her own dreams that will bring the emotions out of her.
Linda — joined by daughter Florence Witherspoon and son Tyson Reed — made the 2,700-mile trip from Bakersfield to Miami, where on Sunday, she'll watch her son D.J. Reed, a second-year defensive back and special teams contributor, try to capture a championship ring with the 49ers.
The 2019 season has been an eventful one for D.J., and his family has been there to witness every major moment.
They were there in Week 11, when he scored his first career touchdown in a 36-26 win over Arizona. They were also there to celebrate with him on Jan. 19, when San Francisco clinched a Super Bowl berth with a 37-20 win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
And now, they are with him in Miami, taking in all the sights and sounds of Super Bowl week, a stage family member say they always expected him to reach.
"D.J. has a vision, boy," Linda said. "He had a plan and he knew what he had to do to get here."
With his championship aspirations on the cusp of being achieved, the family is elated he'll have the chance to showcase his talents in front of the entire football-viewing world.
“It’s one thing when you grow up with a person and you see how talented they are, you see how hard they work, you see the hours that others really don’t see," Witherspoon said. "But (with) the validation at this level, the world gets to see what we’ve seen our entire lives, what we’ve believed our entire lives. You don’t even have words at times to describe the excitement.”
That excitement extends to former coaches, teammates and mentors, who say that watching D.J. get to this point was particularly exciting because he embraced the work needed to get there.
"He always had a great desire to do something big," said Sean McKeown, who coached Reed at Independence. "He loved to work on his craft. It didn't matter if it was football, basketball or the classroom, he was going to outwork you someway, somehow."
Another former coach says Reed's personality makes him easy to root for.
"He's just about the best kid in the whole world," gushed Frank Mazzotta, who coached Reed at Cerritos College in 2015. "He's always smiling, always nice to everybody. He's an unbelievable young man."
At Independence, Reed's Super Bowl appearance created "a buzz around school that's very exciting," according to current Falcon coach and Reed's former teammate Tyler Schilhabel.
"We're very proud to have him as a Falcon football alum," said Schilhabel, who with his team tweeted out a video of support for Reed last week. "He's represented not only himself and his family, but he's represented the whole city of Bakersfield."
Reed became a person of influence in Bakersfield even before reaching the NFL. Already respected in the community, he gained further notoriety after being named an All-Big 12 defensive back at Kansas State in 2017.
Alan Thigpen, who began mentoring Reed through his We Are G.A.M.E organization in 2012, says he's often stressed the need to give back to a community that admires him, a need that's grown with his elevated stature.
"He knows he has that responsibility to be a real positive influence for young people," Thigpen said.
Reed seems to be taking that responsibility seriously.
He's slated to speak at the annual Leaders in Life Conference at the Bakersfield Convention Center on March 12. He's also expressed a desire to host a football and life skills camp in town either in the spring or summer.
Having himself been guided by the likes of Cody Kessler coming up, Reed's family believes he'll jump at the chance to make a similar impact on the lives of aspiring professional athletes in his hometown.
"When you grow up, these people are your heroes," Witherspoon said. "These are the people you look up to and now D.J. has become that. Kids look up to him on a whole different level."
Having seen countless Super Bowls with him as he grew up, Linda knew D.J. watched with hopes of one day participating in the game. For wide-eyed kids in Bakersfield, who'll watch Sunday with dreams of following in her son's footsteps, she hopes his success will inspire them to know they too can make the jump from spectator to participant.
"This is a testament to what other kids can achieve," Linda said. "It doesn't matter what town you come from. What matters is your goal, your dream and if you stay focused on that, you can achieve anything."