GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Wherever big brother went, little brother was usually hanging out in his shadow. Gators redshirt freshman Jordan Reed has always looked up to his older brother David.
“He helps me a lot and keeps me focused,’’ Jordan said. “He’s my role model.’’
Growing up in New Britain, Conn., Jordan often tagged along with David to play basketball on the outdoor courts at Central Connecticut State University, which was near their home.
David was a high school football star and Jordan still in middle school. They often squared off on the basketball court against guys in college.
“He was always on my team growing up,’’ David said. “All my boys at home, they are his brothers, too. That’s the way we grew up. He caught up quick. He grew up around a bunch of older dudes and he had to learn how to play.’’
By the time the family relocated to New London, about 50 miles from New Britain, Jordan was a backyard football all-star but had never played organized sports other than Little League baseball. Four years older, David finished his final prep season at New London High, scoring 20 touchdowns and helping the Whalers win a state championship under Coach Jack Cochran.
“David Reed was the best athlete I’ve ever seen,’’ Cochran said Wednesday. “He could have played anything. He could have been a basketball player, football player, a sprinter.’’
David stuck with football, setting a national junior-college record in 2007 when he caught 111 passes for 1,661 yards at Pasadena (Calif.) City College. He transferred to Utah for his final two seasons, earning first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors in 2009.
A fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, David is now a rookie receiver starting on special teams and trying to earn a spot in the rotation at receiver. More than 800 miles south, Jordan is sort of in a parallel universe, trying to make his mark with the Gators.
Some days are easier than others.
Finally healthy after several nagging injuries limited him earlier in the season, Jordan has that extra little bounce in his step as of late. He is back on the field, getting his first chance at UF to make an impact other than in practice.
Reed caught his first career touchdown pass in Florida’s win over USF earlier last month, and he scored his first rushing touchdown in the LSU game, using his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame to pound his way into the end zone following a collision at the goal line with Tigers linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
On those days Reed gets frustrated because of an injury or missing an assignment in practice, he often talks to big brother.
“They are very close,’’ Cochran said. “They grew up with a single mom who worked double shifts. David did a lot to raise Jordan. He sacrificed a lot, taking care of him and making sure he did what he had to do. I credit him for that.’’
Reed has played in six of seven games, lining up at tight end most of the time. In the LSU and Mississippi State games, the former prep quarterback took multiple snaps at quarterback in the wildcat formation, including his 1-yard scoring run against LSU.
After following in David’s footsteps at New London High and breaking all sorts of school records at quarterback, Jordan changed positions at UF and then was slowed by injuries. Like many young players, the confidence and success he enjoyed in high school evaporated.
“It’s been a struggle with the injuries,’’ Jordan said. “I’ve been working real hard to get back in. It feels good to be playing. I just work real hard to learn all the information I need to play. I’ve never played another position [other than quarterback] in my life. Here, a lot is changing. It just takes time trying to get better at how they are using me.’’
During their weekly chats, David constantly reminds his younger brother that he is in the same place. Both are starting over and that means working even harder to make a difference on the field.
“I wanted him to play defense,’’ David said. “He would be a great free safety. He’s that athletic. I just tell him you’ve got to work when stuff gets hard. You’ve got to work and stay humble.’’
Cochran, who served as a father figure to the Reeds growing up and saw David on Sunday when the Ravens played at New England, first met Jordan when he taught him in gym class in middle school. Cochran was already David’s high school coach, and over the years, he watched Jordan develop into just as good an athlete with different skills.
David is sleek and fast. Jordan is big and strong. But that didn’t stop Cochran from immediately putting Jordan at quarterback when he first joined the Whalers in ninth grade. By the end of his senior season, Cochran said Jordan had 16 scholarship offers, including an early one from the Gators after Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio recruited Reed.
“He was a great story,’’ Cochran said. “He came out late; he missed camp. He had three players in front of him. By Week 2, he was starting. He had an incredible career, especially for a kid who never played organized football until the ninth grade.’’
Jordan’s prep career didn’t surprise David, not after all those playground games where Jordan held his own against older players.
“He’s an athlete,’’ David said. “That kid could play anything he wants to.’’
As they both search for success at their latest stops, the Reeds hold onto the bond they developed growing up. Cochran remains involved in their lives, too, talking to both whenever he can.
“He played a big influence in our lives growing up,’’ David said. “He was a tremendous coach and put hard work in us.’’