Assessing 2011's most intriguing players, in no particular order. Today: Florida State junior cornerback/return man Greg Reid.
• Typecasting. When a guy Reid's size — officially, 5-foot-8, 185 pounds after two years in a college conditioning program — shows up among the most coveted players in the country, you know immediately that that guy can move. Even at his own position, Reid gave up a few inches to his counterparts at the top of a strong incoming cornerback class in 2009, ostensibly making up what he lacked in height against big receivers with first-rate cover skills and explosive potential as a return man.
Through two years, he's flashed enough of both to keep him on track for a hype-fulfilling breakthrough as a junior, when he may well be the most dynamic player on a team hoping for a hype-fulfilling breakthrough of its own after a decade in the wilderness. In both cases, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina on New Year's Eve was a touchstone for the hype: A young, talented edition of Florida State delivered a convincing win over the SEC East champions to secure FSU's first 10-win, top-20 finish since 2003, and Reid delivered an MVP night — four passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a pair of big punt returns that set up Seminole field goals — that may foreshadow his emergence as the ball-hawking, big-play spark the 'Nole defense has been so sorely lacking for so long.
• Best-Case. Reid's big-play value in the return game was immediately obvious: He had 100 yards on three kickoff returns in his first game against Miami, nearly took a punt return to the house against South Florida a few weeks later, finally did take one to the house against Wake Forest and finished the season with the best per-return average in the nation. (He came up just shy of taking a kickoff back for six against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, too.) That carried over to his sophomore season with a 73-yard touchdown return in the season-opening win over Samford and a big return at Oklahoma that was called back on a penalty the following week. He also flashed on defense as a freshman with a pick-six in the second half of a blowout Seminole win at BYU.
It wasn't until last year that he emerged as a regular starter at corner, though, and by the end of the season had found his rhythm as an enforcer in the flat. Before the knockout blow he landed on South Carolina's star freshman, Marcus Lattimore, in the bowl game (see above), Reid made similar plays on receivers entering his zone to force turnovers in wins over Maryland and Florida to close the regular season:
He finished the season second on the team in solo tackles and fourth in total stops, and obviously is not afraid to punch above his weight class.
• Worst-Case. Then again, the best cornerbacks are supposed to be largely invisible because teams are afraid to throw in their direction, and that was rarely the case against Reid last year, especially for teams that could actually stretch the field. His career high in tackles (10) came against Oklahoma, which rang up 394 yards and four touchdowns through the air and posterized Reid on a pair of touchdowns by Cameron Kinney and James Hanna in a 47-17 Sooner rout. Two months later, North Carolina's Dwight Jones left Reid eating dust on multiple occasions:
Jones' line for that game: Eight catches for 233 yards and a touchdown in a 37-35 Tar Heel upset, leaving Reid's grade as a downfield cover man an "incomplete," at best.
• Fun Simultaneously Uplifting and Melancholy Fact. As the ESPN broadcast drove home to viewers — repeatedly — Reid's MVP effort in the bowl game came with his father watching from the stands for the first time since Reid was in ninth grade, due to Greg Sr.'s six-year stint in prison and a halfway house for trafficking cocaine and aggravated assault. The year his father went away — Reid's freshman year of high school — his grades plummeted even as his football stock in Georgia began to rise, sticking him with the reputation that would prompt fans at opposing schools to mock him with signs of the "Greg Can't Read" variety.
|More Coming Attractions|
|• VONTAZE BURFICT, Arizona State|
|• MICHAEL DYER, Auburn|
|• KEENAN ALLEN, Cal|
|• DeANDRE HOPKINS, Clemson|
|• MARCUS COKER, Iowa|
|• BRYCE BROWN, Kansas State|
|• TYRANN MATHIEU, LSU|
|• ETIENNE SABINO, Ohio State|
|• JAMARKUS McFARLAND, Oklahoma|
|• DEVIN TAYLOR, South Carolina|
|• DARRELL SCOTT, South Florida|
|• SHAYNE SKOV, Stanford|
|• NICK PERRY, USC|
|Listed alphabetically by school.|
By his junior year, Reid was well behind the curve to qualify for a Division I school, until an English teacher at Lowndes High took him under her wing and into her home:
Around Christmas during his senior year, when Reid still had much work to do to qualify for a Division I school, [Andrea] Bridges invited Reid to move in with her family. Technically, Reid was no longer her student. Her husband, King, welcomed the idea. And their son, Ty, who's now 6, immediately latched on to Greg.
Reid's mom supported the plan, calling Bridges, "A second mom, a mentor, somebody that I know I could put my trust in, and my child."
He rode to school every morning with Bridges, who made sure Reid did what he needed to do in the afternoons and evenings. Reid spent holidays with his adopted family. He visited colleges with Bridges.
When Reid announced he was headed to Florida State it should have represented the end of a grueling process.
But it wasn't the end. He still needed to qualify academically.
Spoiler alert: He made it.
• What to expect in the fall. As a return man, Reid remains one of the most dangerous players in the ACC and a threat to make something happen every time he touches the ball. As a cornerback, well, he's not getting any taller. But he is coming off one of the best games of his career against South Carolina All-American Alshon Jeffery, and he's moving into his second season in the zone-heavy scheme installed last year by defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. He's got a legitimate pass rush from the front four to make his job a little easier, too.
Most importantly, he's still a five-star talent who can fulfill the hype with better consistency as an upperclassman. With second-team All-ACC pick Xavier Rhodes holding down the other side of the field, Florida State should have the best corner tandem in the conference, at least, and if they're going to be anywhere near as good as the early returns suggest with a new quarterback guiding the offense, they're probably going to have to be.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.