Rookie snapshot: Willie Reid

Willie Reid was the Steelers' third-round draft pick after a furious finish at Florida State. In his final two games, against Virginia Tech and Penn State, Reid returned 11 punts for 290 yards and two touchdowns, and caught nine passes for 133 yards.

WILLIE REID Pittsburgh Steelers

Steel City Insider: What can you tell me about your hometown of Kathleen, Georgia?

Willie Reid: It was a small, real small town. It was like dirt roads and a stop sign. I don't think Kathleen has a red light up in it. I grew up in a nice little country part of Georgia, where you learn about hard work and values and things of that nature. I'm a real country boy.

SCI: Did you work on a farm?

WR: No. I grew up on a nice bit of land, nothing real big but it was real country.

SCI: Did you play a lot of ball?

WR: We had a nice little neighborhood for kids. We played baseball, football, basketball growing up.

SCI: Were you the fastest one?

WR: I've been the fastest for a long time, up through middle school and high school.

SCI: What's your family like?

WR: My family's real good. Dad's a preacher; mom's a teacher. I have an older sister and younger brother. We're real family oriented, so that's a big plus.

SCI: What was it like to be a 2,000-yard rusher in high school?

WR: We had a nice little offense designed in high school. I came from a football high school. Really, there's nothing but football where I'm from in Georgia. I was very fortunate to grow up in a football environment. I had a pretty nice little four years of high school.

SCI: What was your highlight in high school?

WR: Breaking the school record in rushing yards. James Brooks held it.

SCI: Did he come down for the celebration?

WR: Yes. He was actually down there. The night that I broke the record he was in attendance. I know he didn't like to see it happen, but it had to be done.

SCI: Did you need the 2,000 yards to break his record?

WR: I rushed for 2,000 yards my junior year. My senior year I broke his record. He held the career record. The single-season record I broke as a junior.

SCI: What else can you tell me about high school?

WR: I just four year letterman football, basketball and ran track my senior year.

SCI: Were you a standout in basketball?

WR: I was pretty good. I was a nice little point guard.

SCI: So why did you pick Georgia?

WR: I went to Florida State.

SCI: Of course. I'm sorry. I knew better. I have Georgia in my head and was going to ask you about following in Hines Ward's footsteps. Did you hear of Hines much while growing up in Georgia?

WR: Yes. Everybody knew about Hines and how good he was at the University of Georgia. Everybody who's from the state knows about Hines.

SCI: Was he one of your heroes?

WR: I've always admired his game, but I was never really a big Georgia Bulldog fan when he was in college.

SCI: Why not?

WR: I always liked Florida football, Florida State and the Florida Gators about that time.

SCI: So why did you pick Florida State?

WR: Coach Bowden had a lot to do with it. His legacy had a lot to do with it.

SCI: How much did you like playing running back and was it difficult to move to receiver?

WR: I liked it a lot. My coach felt it was best for our team for me to move from running back to receiver, since I wasn't gaining that much weight. I stayed around 188, 190 pounds, so I told him whatever helped the team I would do. There was no problem with me switching positions.

SCI: You sound like a dream to coach.

WR: I'm real team-oriented. I'm one of those guys who just wants to win championships, like Pittsburgh did last year. That's one of the things I want to do is win championships.

SCI: What was the transition to receiver like?

WR: It wasn't as difficult as I thought. It was just a whole 'nother ball game, but it was still football. You have to have the same toughness, the same mental awareness. It was just a different position. It wasn't that bad.

SCI: Why didn't they run many reverses with you?

WR: We didn't run too many reverses at Florida State at the position I played. It would've been nice to get some, but we didn't run too many.

SCI: Did the team run many?

WR: We ran maybe a couple of them, but it was always designed to the other side of the field. I might have had one or two my junior year.

SCI: Did you miss running the ball?

WR: Yeah, I miss it a whole lot. I still do miss it. It was something I'd been doing since I was eight years old. It was real natural to me.

SCI: Do you expect the Steelers to use you on reverses and trick plays?

WR: Yeah (laughs). They run lot of nice little trick plays. I just hope to be a part of the game plan. It'll be a real pleasure for me to play for Pittsburgh, period.

SCI: Did you follow the Steelers down there?

WR: We used to watch them. They came on TV all the time. We always got their games and I was a big NFL fan. I like every team in the NFL. I'm just real fortunate to go to a playoff team, a championship team, like the Steelers are.

SCI: They have a young quarterback who's pretty good, too.

WR: Really good. It's really exciting being in Pittsburgh.

SCI: What's your family saying about you being drafted by the Steelers?

WR: They're really enjoying me going to Pittsburgh. It's a good football city and I've always been in good football cities from here to Tallahassee and now Pittsburgh. It's another thing I'm used to and it's really exciting.

SCI: Were you born to play football?

WR: I wouldn't say born to play football but it's something I like.

SCI: What else do you like to do?

WR: I enjoy playing video games and chilling around the house. I'm more of a homebody than anything.

SCI: So you don't go out much?

WR: I don't go out too much, from time to time maybe, but I'm more comfortable at the house, just chillin' at the house.

SCI: Do you get up real early and work out?

WR: I tend to get up kind of early. I don't know what it is, but it's tough for me to sleep late. I just have to get up and do something. I'm an early type of guy, and I think that will help out a lot during two-a-days and stuff like that.

SCI: Can you give me an example of your workouts?

WR: I go to the gym and workout. I run a lot with our track team back here.

SCI: Will you be able to handle the cold weather up here?

WR: I don't think it'll be a problem at all. As long as they've got those little heaters on the sideline I'll be straight (laughs).

SCI: What were your highlights in college?

WR: I'd say the ACC championship game and the BCS bowl game at the end.

SCI: Tell me about the championship game against Virginia Tech.

WR: It was a real good game for me, as far as going against one of the best corners, Jimmy Williams. Playing against him was a real good experience and I think I did really well. Playing against a good, hard-nosed defense and good special teams, running back a punt on them was really big. Having good field position for my team was really big for my team.

SCI: You returned one for a touchdown in the bowl game, too, so you finished strong, didn't you?

WR: Right, I finished real strong. I think the one against Virginia Tech was 83 yards and the one against Penn State was 87, so I kind of racked up at the end a little bit. I finished pretty strong.

SCI: Did Williams cover you man to man?

WR: Yeah, he covered me man to man a lot of times, but they play a little different scheme. They had a little zone but I caught some passes on him.

SCI: Did you expect your success against Penn State?

WR: Yeah. I expect greatness out of myself. I expect to be one of the best on the field. That's how I carry myself. That's how I go about practicing. If you don't expect to be one of the better players out there on the field than you're selling yourself short. I expected to make those plays and I think I did pretty well.

SCI: It seemed like you kept Florida State in that game by yourself.

WR: It was a team effort. The ball didn't bounce our way a couple times as far as field goals and penalties, but we bounced back and played a hard game. I'm proud of the guys who played and the coaching staff, who did a real good job of putting us in the best position, but we just didn't execute down the stretch and got beat.

SCI: As a wide receiver, how much more work do you need?

WR: I just want to sharpen up on a lot of things as far as route-running. I think I read coverages pretty well. I need work on the route-running aspect and be a complete receiver every down, making the right blocks, small things that will make you great. Everything that Hines is about, that's what I'm going to try to be. I'm going to try to emulate him.

SCI: Who has been your mentor?

WR: My father, Willie Sr. He taught me how to be a man and he was always there for me. A lot of guys don't have father figures in their life and I'm just very fortunate to have mine. He really taught me a lot about the game of football and life.

SCI: Who is your role model as an athlete?

WR: The person I look up to the most was Michael Jordan. He played big in big games and just got the job done no matter what the circumstance was.

SCI: Could that describe you and the way you finished in those big games?

WR: Uh, yeah, but I don't have those six championships.

SCI: Are you apprehensive or excited before beginning your Steelers career?

WR: I'm more excited than anything, just ready to play. I'm ready to get out there in that black and gold uniform and give it my best shot.

SCI: Do you look good in black and gold?

WR: Oh, yeah. Most definitely.

JEFF BOWDEN Florida State offensive coordinator/receivers coach

SCI: What can you tell me about Willie Reid?

Jeff Bowden: One, he was a tremendous leader for us. He had a great commitment, showed great commitment to the game and I think to the team. That had a lot to do with his leadership ability, his work ethic. The players saw that. And obviously his production his senior year was really good, especially in the kicking game.

SCI: Why is he knocked by scouts as a raw receiver?

JB: Well he is a little raw. There's no question. We signed him at Florida State as a top running back out of the state of Georgia, and early on we were pretty loaded. We had Greg Jones, Nick Maddox and Leon Washington, and Lorenzo Booker was there soon after that, so he was in a real crowded position. Now, he was the only one at the time who we felt would have the best chance to perform for us as a freshman and to make a move to wide receiver, and we did that. And probably the first or second day he was there he broke a bone in his foot, so we lost him for the season. And then the next year I think he went through the same deal. Early on in his career he went through a lot of injuries, and they weren't the career injuries – the knee injuries and things like that. They were things that just held him back and kept him from practicing as much as he would like, so I think that slowed his development. I think when you hear "raw" with his name, that's where it's coming from.

SCI: So you don't think it's anything he can't overcome?

JB: No, no, no. What that means to me and what I mean by that is there's a pretty good upside to him. What Pittsburgh's going to find out is they're going to find how this kid will work. He's a tremendous worker. There's not anything he won't do that those coaches ask of him. They're going to get a quality athlete/person in that regard.

SCI: That's what they look for.

JB: Well, that's good. I mean, he's a character kid for us. That's all I can tell you.

SCI: Can you give me an example?

JB: Well, I think with all he's been through down here, offensively, and all he's had to go through, for him to maintain his leadership, to continue to push his team to be better, to stay positive, keep working, to not sit here and worry about things he couldn't control and just do his job, is probably the best example I can give you. And a lot of the success we had last year, even in our ACC championship game, he had a lot to do with it.

SCI: Was his strong finish an indicator of what's to come?

JB: I think that's an indicator of the upside to Willie. You know, I really wondered about his junior year. I really was questioning whether or not he needed to be a tailback. That's the kind of athlete he is. But he's such a good athlete we had to get him involved in the offense. We had Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker. Not that Willie was any worse than either of them, but he had the most versatility. He's very similar to Booker in that regard, but Willie's just a little bigger. He was a kid that we needed to get the ball to. And for me, as a play-caller, when you've got to have something, you're lucky if you have a third guy in your offense that you have to get the ball to and who will make the play. Willie was that kind of player.

SCI: Why so few reverses with him?

JB: Yeah, well, if we had more success with our reverses we certainly would've got him more. Florida State has such a stigma that teams look for the reverse. Bobby Bowden's reputation is the reverse.

SCI: Kind of like the Steelers. Do you assume they'll use him on reverses?

JB: I think they can. Look at his punt returns. Running a reverse is like being in the open field on a punt return. Once you get the ball in his hands the athlete takes over. He's shown what he can do when he's got the ball in his hand on punt returns, so you can kind of use that as a predictor.

SCI: What was his best moment with you guys?

JB: One of them would've been in the loss to Virginia where he made some big catches and took some really strong shots from a safety. It showed in him that there was a lack of fear in going over the middle. The quarterback threw high a little bit and he took a shot in the ribs. He tried to keep running but he couldn't breathe and he just had to go down. He wasn't hurt. He caught his breath and was right back in there. That, and he had a huge catch in the ACC championship game, a punt return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown against Maryland, a punt return for a touchdown in the bowl game, broke Deion Sanders's punt-return record his junior year. He's quietly built some pretty strong credentials.

SCI: So what should Steelers fans expect in terms of his lack of polish as a wide receiver?

JB: He needs at-bats. You don't get better at that stage without at-bats. If he gets the at-bats as a punt returner, they're going to find they've got a kid with great vision and great instincts carrying the ball. And he will stick it up in there. He doesn't have to dance; he doesn't do all that. He sees a hole and he hits it pretty good. As a receiver, the only way he's going to get good – just like with any kid – is just playing time, playing time, playing time. They're not going to get him to practice any harder than he normally does. He'll be one of the hardest workers they bring in, I'll bet you. So now it comes down to the game, getting comfortable with that level of ball because that's the highest level. But I think the one thing Steeler fans will be pleased with in him is his character. I think they're bringing in another quality person. He'll certainly maintain what seems to be a great character level they have right there.

SCI: I talked to him on the phone and got that impression. I expected some kind of problem with a 4.3 guy who wasn't drafted until the third round, but he comes off as a coach's dream.

JB: His third round, I honestly believe, is just the injuries he's gone through that have held him back. He's a kid who, three seasons ago, when we got all of our tailbacks hurt, had not practiced at running back but we had to put him there to finish a game. He's able to do those kinds of things. He's special and he's got a great, great family, a great support group, and he's going to be around a great coaching staff and a great organization.

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