Growing up on mean streets broadened view for Reed

On the Ravens

August 26, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS SAFETY Ed Reed is so easygoing now because his early years were so hard.

As an 8-year old in Shrewsbury, La., he saw one man stab another and then stood horrified as the victim sat on a stump and eventually bled to death.

A year later, he watched his uncle die in a fire that destroyed his grandmother's house. His aunt tried but failed to rescue the uncle, leaving her scarred both mentally and physically for life.

So when teammates, peers or anyone talks about how tough it is to play in the NFL, Reed usually lowers his head, shaking it in disbelief. It's all about perspective. Every day, life can be hard. Football is just passion and a game, one that Reed finds easy to play.

"Half the people I knew when I was growing up are either in jail, dead or I don't know where they are," Reed said. "I was in that crowd and, believe me, it wasn't easy getting out. Just last week, a 6 1/2 -year-old boy in my old neighborhood was shot to death.

"God has blessed me with the ability to play football," he said. "Ever since I was a kid, I knew I could play in the NFL because I had a knack for the game. But I can't play this game forever. When I'm finished, maybe I'll become a motivational speaker, maybe a preacher. But children need to know that life may be hard, but you can always overcome."

The Ravens are in no hurry for Reed to move on. He made the AFC Pro Bowl squad last year in only his second season. He can make big plays as a safety, punt returner or blocking punts. This year, he could develop into the best safety in the game. Some thought he earned that distinction last year.

One of those is former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, now a CBS analyst.

"I've played against guys that are great against the run and not so good against the pass," Sharpe said. "I've played with guys that are great against the pass and not so good against the run. He is probably the most complete safety that I saw in my 14 years in the league. He might be the best safety in football right now."

There are so many things to like about Reed. He has unbelievable closing speed and passion. He is highly instinctive, which is something you can't teach.

"He probably got that right from the cradle," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. Combined with his willingness to learn, Reed is seldom fooled. Only inside linebacker Ray Lewis studies as much film (about seven hours daily during the season) because Lewis and Reed usually study together.

Reed, though, looks for more than just average tendencies such as personnel groupings and down and distance. He learned how to study film from University of Miami defensive back coach Randy Shannon, who also taught Lewis.

"I'm looking for the slightest edge, like how the player comes out of the huddle, I'm looking at his eyes, looking to see how he plays in certain weather, looking to see if he wears gloves on certain plays and not on others," Reed said.

Lewis' eyes get big when he hears this kind of talk coming from his protege. They're inseparable on and off the field. They come from the same college. They wear similar practice garb. They worked out together on the Florida beaches in the offseason.

Ray and Ed. Ed and Ray. They share a similar passion, and the same goal of being the best ever at their positions.

"It's one thing when you find a young guy with talent and ask them where they want to go, and another thing when you find a young player with talent, and he says he wants it all," Lewis said. "His spirit is always willing. That's what really makes him good. He wants to be the greatest. I just tell him to go for it and not let anyone get in your way. He has the energy I had when I was younger. He has that fire."

The desire comes from that rough neighborhood. One of five children, Reed watched drugs, alcohol and teen sex destroy a lot of his friends. Reed's only way out was sports. He can't recall any that he hasn't played. Sports forced him to get good grades and kept him off the poisoned Shrewsbury streets.

Reed hasn't forgotten his old neighborhood. Each summer, he runs a weeklong football camp for about 200 kids. The fee is only $30, but Reed still ends up paying the bill for a lot of the players. A devout Christian, he spends a lot of the offseason traveling around to various communities preaching about his faith and his blessings as a player in the NFL.

"I was in that wrong crowd," Reed said, "so now I want to encourage kids to become better men and women. We're all going to have our trials and tribulations, but you can work through them and everything will be all right. Stay in school because education provides you with an opportunity. Opportunity is all you can ask for."

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