Michigan State football's Jayden Reed had a 'brother' waiting for him when he transferred
Early in the pandemic shutdown, Michigan State football players scattered, most going back to their families.
Jayden Reed returned to suburban Chicago. And the wide receiver spent plenty of time working with his surrogate brother.
That happens to be quarterback Payton Thorne, his MSU teammate and long-time friend. They were adding to their already-established connection.
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“He has spent a lot of time at our house over the last few years, and definitely in quarantine,” Thorne’s father, Jeff, said Monday night. “We’ve been truly blessed to have him around as much as he was. He’s a kind-hearted, polite, thoughtful and humble young man. We absolutely love him.”
Reed hopes MSU fans will embrace him the same way. After all, he’s one of the new kids in town — one who new coach Mel Tucker and his staff hope will become a dangerous weapon for the Spartans’ offense.
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The third-year sophomore sat out last season after transferring from Western Michigan, where he blossomed from a three-star recruit to a freshman All-American in 2018 as a receiver and return man. He spent all fall on the Spartans’ scout team, catching passes from his former middle school and high school teammate while waiting to get on the field again.
It has been a long wait, one that almost seemed like it might be prolonged even more when the Big Ten shut down football for a month. But that time off didn’t bother Reed.
“I'm a very patient person. I just wait on my moment — I was used to It already,” the 6-foot, 185-pound Reed said on a video call Monday evening. “It was shaping my character all around, making me become a better ballplayer, a better thinker, a better learner. So, I'm very patient, I'm ready for what's thrown at me. Whenever it's time, I'm ready to go.”
The path Reed took to get to MSU was one of defying expectations, of overcoming pain and swirls of change. All with Thorne, now a redshirt freshman, at his side.
Reed and Thorne two met in middle school, when the young pass catcher was in eighth grade and the savvy passer a year younger. Reed and Thorne established a bond that would link them together in their football journeys.
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“Jayden, having that connection with him, is definitely very nice,” Thorne said in December. “We've been able to talk so much. I consider him more of a brother, to be honest, than a friend."
When Reed was a sophomore at Metea Valley High, his father, Sabian, died of kidney failure, according to the Naperville Sun. It was Sept. 13, 2015 — Reed played in a game the day before his father's funeral, according to the paper, because he felt that’s what his dad would have wanted.
“He’s had to overcome that loss while excelling the way he has,” Jeff Thorne said. “I had just met his dad, and we quickly hit it off as Payton and Jayden had such a great connection. He (died) only about four weeks after I had met him. Really tragic.”
Around that time, Reed and Payton Thorne started spending more time together. In the fall of 2016 for Metea Valley, the two connected 23 times for 403 yards and four touchdowns. Both transferred to Naperville Central in 2017 for one final run together.
“Payton's home is pretty much my second home,” Reed said Monday. “Honestly.”
But major colleges still remained skittish over both, and the bulk of their offers came from Mid-American Conference schools.
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Then just 5-10 and 160 pounds, Reed committed to Western Michigan in April 2017 as part of Tim Lester’s first recruiting class. Reed earned Chicago Sun Times All-Area as a senior, finishing with 1,179 receiving yards and 18 TDs.
“Ever since I've been in high school, I haven't been the biggest big-time player,” Reed said. “I was three-star, I wasn't a five-star, I always faced those type of guys. So pretty much for me, whoever I'm in front of, I feel like I'm gonna take it to them, regardless of what their label is. Whoever's in front of me, I'm just willing to compete. It doesn't matter who it is. I'm gonna come at you. That's how I feel.”
In May 2018, Thorne planned to join Reed in Kalamazoo and committed to WMU. But late during that recruiting cycle, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans came calling after losing Dwan Mathis that summer. By that point, Thorne had grown to 6-2 and 185 pounds and threw for 3,113 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior at Naperville Central to earn USA TODAY All-USA Illinois First Team honors.
Reed, meantime, was fast becoming a young star for the Broncos. He registered four 100-yard receiving games as a true freshman, including a seven-catch, four-touchdown, 137-yard performance at Miami (Ohio). He finished the season with 56 catches for 797 yards and eight TDs, adding another score on a 93-yard punt return against Delaware State. That landed him on the All-Mid-American Conference second team. He also earned a spot on the Football Writers of America Association’s freshman All-American team.
“He's a phenomenal athlete,” current MSU teammate Elijah Collins said of Reed.
“He can make plays when he has the ball, when he doesn't have the ball. … I'm gonna just say I mean, he's one to look out for.”
Things dissolved quickly at WMU. Reed wanted more of a challenge. He also knew his friend was not too far away, and that MSU needed more explosive plays.
Reed entered the NCAA’s transfer portal in mid-May 2019. He talked with his old friend Thorne and found a new home in East Lansing by the end of that month.
Once again, they would reunite and try and disprove their doubters.
“Really, I'm a very competitive person,” Reed said. “It was a lot with me. I wanted to get a great education first and foremost. Second off, I wanted to compete with the best. So that was a huge reason why I came. I feel like it was in my best interest to come here and play at Michigan State."
'Really bright future'
Jeff Thorne knows his football. To say the least.
He succeeded his father, John, as the head coach at North Central College in Naperville in 2015, last year guiding the Cardinals to the NCAA Division III championship.
In Reed, he sees an explosive threat that is hard for opposing defenses to contain.
“Athletically, he’s got blinding straight-line speed combined with tremendous quickness and change of direction,” the elder Thorne said. “Really bright future ahead of him. Can’t wait to watch it unfold.”
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Just ask his former high school basketball teammate and best friend, Malik Hall. The MSU sophomore forward confirmed on Twitter a story Reed told that he nearly dunked on the former four-star hoops prospect despite being 7 inches shorter.
“Almost don't count though, right?” Reed said with a chuckle. “You know, he's a big guy.”
So is Reed when he gets the ball on the football field. At WMU, he also had nine kick returns for 116 yards and 12 punt returns for 215 yards and hopes to be part of the Spartans’ revamped return units.
“Possibly,” he said, playing coy. “I mean, I'm back there and practice and working on it a lot. … I believe I will be involved in special teams.”
MSU has three former Naperville Central teammates in Reed, Thorne and receiver Cade McDonald, a redshirt freshman walk-on who made a brief debut last season at Rutgers. That gives Thorne a unique advantage over junior Rocky Lombardi and sophomore Theo Day as the Spartans start practicing live this week.
“We’re able to get on each other,” Payton Thorne said in December. “He knows where I want him to be, and I know what he wants, too. That’s definitely a good thing. … Jayden has definitely helped us, me and Cade, because he had been through a year football at the college level. So it was cool to listen to the different experiences that he's been through. He's got a lot of advice for us.”
Last season gave Reed a chance to work with Thorne and McDonald on the scout team, going against the Spartans’ top defense weekly to prepare them for upcoming opponents.
“It shaped my character in a way,” Reed said of the year off. “It helped me become a better person, it helped me become more patient. It really helped me. It gave me a year to get faster, stronger, focus on myself. So I don't regret it at all. I'm very happy with where I am I right now today. Everything happens for a reason.”
Ready to launch
There is no guarantee Thorne will get the ball this fall. Lombardi — whom Reed described as “super-chill” — is the only MSU quarterback with significant game experience. He also is a veteran who Reed said he hangs out with outside of football and established a good relationship with in the past year.
“This is a team sport, so you gotta be able to operate with whoever is out there,” Reed said. “Obviously, me and Peyton have a lot of chemistry. Payton is very talented. I believe our whole QB room is very talented. And I have confidence in whoever they throw out there.”
Still, Reed and Thorne used their time during the early stages of the lockdown back in Illinois to hone their timing and improve their bodies together. They “worked out a lot,” Reed said, in a weight room Thorne built in his garage. They ran passing routes together before returning to campus in the summer.
And they hope that connection can continue.
“We did a lot of studying of the playbook, trying to get better,” Reed said, “and making sure we’re ready when whenever our names are called again.”
Contact Chris Solari: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football: Jayden Reed's journey tied to Payton Thorne