Tyler Schilhabel and D.J. Reed never played a snap of football on the same team at Independence, but their paths crossed in high school plenty and then came back full circle on Monday.
When Schilhabel was paralyzed during his junior year of high school in 2010, Reed was a freshman at Independence.
Flash forward to Monday and the two took a moment to chat it up before Reed, coming off his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, came back to his alma mater to talk to the Independence football team, which happens to be coached by Schilhabel.
“I think it’s awesome. D.J. has always been a guy that’s always been about his hometown and has never forgotten his roots,” Schilhabel said. “It’s great for our kids to hear his story because he is the epitome of self-determination and never giving up and always believing in himself. I am very grateful to be able to have him come back and speak to our guys.”
Reed’s journey and message is one that’s not hard to get behind.
After getting shunned by college football programs out of high school, he went to Fresno State for a shot. After redshirting a year and being told he may not have a future with the Bulldogs, he went to Cerritos College. After one year at the junior college in Norwalk, he transferred to Kansas State, where he became an All-Big 12 standout for the Wildcats as a defensive back and returner.
Then just four years after getting told that he wasn’t big enough, fast enough or strong enough, Reed was drafted in the fifth round by San Francisco as the 142nd overall pick in last season’s NFL Draft.
“I felt that God made me go through that intentionally,” Reed said. “That whole process, in a short phrase, is to never give up. If you never give up you never fail. If you think about that if you, yourself, never give up, you’re going to land somewhere you think you’re going to. Even if you fall short, you’re still going to be in a good place. That’s my main thing. Never give up.”
And that’s the message he wanted to give to the current players at Independence that as long as hard work, dedication and self-motivation are there, the possibilities are endless.
“Being pessimistic doesn’t help. Complaining doesn’t help,” Reed said. “Looking at life with a positive perspective will change things for you.”
Reed said that his first year in the NFL was “like a tornado.”
“Everything was fast. With a new area to live in (the Bay Area), you’ve got to get situated,” Reed said. “I had to learn a whole new playbook, a new position. But at the same time, it was a great blessing. A dream come true. It was everything I dreamed about.”
He leaned on the advice and encouragement from veterans like Richard Sherman and said the first eye-opening experience playing in the NFL came during a game where he was star-struck by another player that spent time at a junior college.
“When we were playing the (Green Bay) Packers and I was playing safety and I remember thinking, ‘Wow. Aaron Rodgers is really under center,’” Reed said of Rodgers, who played at Butte College out of high school in Northern California. “This was crazy. I used to watch (Rodgers) do damage against teams and here we were playing him and that was a moment I had where I felt this was crazy.”
But Reed is also aware that the football life is short and can be taken away in a blink.
“Football goes away. It’s quick,” Reed said. “NFL stands for ‘Not For Long.’ You don’t know when you are a serious injury away from not ever playing again. You for sure have to have something you have to do after football, because it’s temporary.”
And that’s a big reason why Schilhabel was excited for Reed to come back home and tell his message of never giving up and believing in yourself, whether it’s making it to the NFL or graduating college, which Reed plans to do next offseason.
“That’s a key part of his message,” Schilhabel said. “Where he is now was by working extremely hard. He’s not going to shy away from hard work and let people know to get where you need to be, you’ve got to put in that hard work.”