Nothing has come easy for D.J. Reed.
From not grabbing a Division I scholarship out of Independence High School, to leaving his first college football home, to taking the junior college route to get back to the highest level, to becoming an All-Big 12 caliber cornerback at Kansas State, to now this:
A 2018 NFL Draft entree, which he announced two weeks ago via his Twitter account @D7_Reed.
If anything, Reed’s story shows the importance of perseverance, resiliency and stick-to-it-tiveness. It can be a teaching tool for any young student-athlete aspiring to be something more.
“All those things,” said Reed’s longtime mentor Allen Thigpen, “those things represent D.J.”
Reed hopes his football odyssey takes him to the NFL.
During his the past two seasons at Kansas State, the 5-foot-9, 188-pounder has earned All-Big 12 honors as a defensive back and kick returner.
Last season as a junior, Reed made a whopping 75 tackles, had three interceptions, and recorded 19 passes defensed.
This year he made 47 stops, had nine pass breakups, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
His statistics on special teams were very impressive — Reed finished second in the nation in both punt and kickoff return average (14.9 yards and 34.2 yards per return, respectively) and scored touchdowns in each category.
While Reed left Kansas State with a year of eligibility remaining, he had limited conversations with others about his future — he spoke with his mom and with God, he said. Ultimately, it was a fairly straightforward decision: Reed felt he proved himself on the college level and was ready to take the next step.
“College football is just like the NFL. The demand on your body ... In college, you’re playing for free,” Reed said. “I want to get paid for doing what I love, while I can, when I’m healthy.
“I feel like I proved everything and showed I could play in a good conference at a high level ... As far as film, I felt like I showed everything on tape. It was just time.”
Reed said he wants to give back to his family.
“I owe my mom, my brother and my sister a great life,” he said. “I feel like I’m mentally and physically stronger from the adversity I went through.”
Reed’s journey to this point is nothing short of remarkable, and is a product of hard work.
It started locally at Independence, where he was a dynamic playmaker with top-end speed. Reed was also a key player on the Falcons basketball team that went 33-2 his junior year. That season he was listed as a 5-foot-7 point guard and team captain on MaxPreps.com.
Sean McKeown, who was head football coach at Independence at the time, said Reed was young for his class, yet broke out of his shell as team leader during his 2013 senior season.
"He was younger than all the other kids. But he also worked harder than all those kids,” McKeown recalled. “Not just at his craft, but in the classroom. He was a great student.”
Then it was on to college, where Reed said he was overlooked primarily because of his size. He would walk-on at Fresno State and redshirt his first year with the program. Right from the get-go, however, Reed said didn’t see much of a future with the Bulldogs. Members of the coaching staff eventually told Reed that they saw him merely as a special teams player moving forward.
“Had to take another route,” Reed stated. “I just knew I could play at the highest level.”
Reed chose to take the field at Cerritos College in Norwalk, hoping for a quick turnaround and another opportunity on the Division I level.
Reed said he opted not to attend Bakersfield College, simply to continue pushing himself on and off the field.
“I didn’t want to stay home. When you know a lot of people, you fall into a comfort zone. If I lived with my mom, I would get comfortable. Being back in my bed. I didn’t need that,” Reed explained. “I felt like getting away from that, that would be better for me. That would force me to be more focused.”
At Cerritos, Reed said he had a solid season — "managed to get through the season and stayed healthy. Had some interceptions, some big hits, some punt returns.”
A few Division I offers came rolling in early, and more followed late. One of the first, Reed said, was from Kansas State. Reed said he had a cousin who went there and recommended the football program. Reed also said things clicked on his visit, and he was intrigued with playing for Bill Snyder, who’s led the Kansas State program for 26 years — and to 19 bowl appearances — as head coach.
“He’s going to turn you into a man going there,” Reed said.
“Coming from a background where I did my own thing ... He taught me a lot and made me a better player.”
Reed said adjusting to Manhattan, Kan., was a challenge in itself, although one that had its fair share of benefits.
“It’s cold. The diversity, there wasn’t as much as California,” he said. “A different atmosphere. But I’m glad I went through it.”
Reed shined while with the Wildcats, so much so that Thigpen said Reed’s quick ascension has surprised even those in his inner circle.
“I knew he was something special the day I met him,” Thigpen said. “I wasn’t sure about the route he would take to get there, though.”
While Thigpen later described Reed as “a high-character young man who wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he added there were many tough times during the young man’s journey.
“There has been a lot of nights where I cried, a lot of nights where I thought about quitting. A lot of praying. Is this really what I want to do? It’s been tough,” Reed said. “There were times I questioned if I was good.”
Reed is currently in Anaheim working out and waiting for his invite to the NFL Combine, scheduled for April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.