Nick Reed was one of the Pac 10's all-time sack leaders as a star for the Oregon Ducks, but he didn't hear his name called until the seventh round of the 2009 NFL draft. The Seattle Seahawks took the undersized pass-rusher there, and after one season in the dumpster fire that was the Jim Mora "era" in Seattle, Reed received an injury settlement and moved around the league, trying to stick somewhere. He signed a futures deal with the Chicago Bears and made the team, went to Tampa Bay after his release, and was cut by the Minnesota Vikings in August of 2012. That release led Reed to a calling he had seen coming for a long time -- he wanted to be an Air Force pilot, and that's what he's training to be now.
"When I was a kid my dad was in the Navy," Reed told CBS' Jason La Canfora during the fourth week of his current training at the Air Force Academy, "and he was flight surgeon -- a doctor for the pilots. So he would come home and talk about that stuff with me, and I think that's how I kind of got into it and knew that was something I wanted to do. Most kids want to be an astronaut or a pilot. I guess I never really got out of that stage."
Reed almost made that move the year before. The Bears told him that he made their team on Sept. 1, 2001. 10 days later, he received word of his acceptance into the Air Force.
"It kind of put me in a tough position, because it's hard to pass up the NFL," Reed told La Canfora, "but this is also a job I always wanted to do. So I decided this would be here for me in a couple of more years and I was still young enough that it wouldn't pass me up."
Now, Reed gets up every day at 4:30 in the morning, and he's hard at work in a process that rivals or exceeds anything he ever saw when he was trying to make the NFL. He began a nine-week "Super Boot Camp" last month, and though he's all in for his new life, there are still pangs when he thinks about how his football career turned out.
"There's not a lot I really miss, maybe the free time it affords you," Reed said. "But I was jaded by the whole experience. It's maybe still too soon to be asking me that question. I'm proud to say I played and got to do it and had that opportunity and I was lucky got to play. But I wasn't ready for it to be over. Not that I regret this track I'm on. But I still felt like I had some good ball left.
"That will always be my question -- what happened? I felt like wherever I went I had success when I got to play. I know I was small and slow, but I got the job done. But once you're gone, you're gone. When they're not answering your phone calls anymore you have to move, and everything happens for a reason, so I am sure there was something."
Now, he gets the job done in a different way. He's got all the standard physical demands anyone would see as they prepare for military service, and hours upon hours of class work and homework as well. If he makes it through his current training, Reed could begin a year of pilot training in June. He would like to be a fighter pilot, but as he told La Canfora, Reed understands that the selection process is very rigorous.
"Flying jets is cool and I would love to do it, but it's very competitive and depending on when I graduate there might not be any spots available. You need a lot of skill and luck to make that happen. If that doesn't work out then I will have a pilot's license and I'm excited to fly."
We hear enough sad stories about former NFL players who turn to a dark path when their football dreams go up in smoke. Kudos to Nick Reed for not only understanding that there's life after the game, but going after a dream that may be even tougher to reach.