Dec. 27, 2012
LOS ANGELES - There is a certain way about Ed Reynolds that others can relate to.
When he arrived at Stanford as a freshman in 2010, he instantly created a rapport with veterans as well as rookies, earning respect for his demeanor and leadership. The coaches appreciated him because he got it, he understood concepts and strategy and adjustments, and took advice to heart.
This season, Reynolds has gained attention for his six interceptions, returning three for touchdowns -- or four depending on whether you believe he crossed the goal line in the Pac-12 Championship Game -- which is one from the NCAA record. But truly, the maturity and the play go hand in hand.
"Ed is beyond his years," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said.
"Even coming in as a freshman, I was the old guy, the guy who really wasn't into messing around." said Reynolds, preparing for the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. "If there's a way I would like to portray myself, it's as somebody who's mature and is very detailed in how I do things."
For Reynolds, the pursuit to be great has meant nothing without the discipline to do so. His father, 10-year NFL linebacker Ed Reynolds, was in the Army Reserves and the son of a career soldier. Young Ed's uncle served in Iraq, and several other relatives are veterans as well.
"Discipline was huge," the Stanford star said. "Being a disciplined human being means being accountable in everything you do. It means showing respect, and earning respect with your actions, not just words."
Having a pro football player for a father had its advantages in that regard. If Ed was looking for focus, he found it in his desire to learn the game and to do the little things it takes to be the best.
Ed squeezed putty to strengthen his hands. He wore special glasses to train his eyes. And he became an expert in nutrition and flexibility to train his body.
But he also combined these skills with an ability to learn the game. It's with this eye that Reynolds has distinguished himself the most.
"He's constantly looking for an edge," his father said.
At a position that requires quick thinking, or no thinking, Reynolds has evolved to auto pilot. A safety must determine his alignment - defend the deep play, or look for keys among his opponents on whether the play will be a run or a pass.
When the play's in motion, the safety must filter the activity in front him as he watches the eyes and body position of the quarterback. And, finally, does he have the leverage and positioning to make the play.
"By the end of that season, I knew the defense forward and backward."
To that, Reynolds adds other dimensions: the ability to bait a quarterback into a poor throw, the ability to actually make the interception when given the opportunity, and the ability to transform that interception into a game-changing touchdown return.
In meetings, Mason will throw out this half-sentence command to his players, and expects them to finish it.
Mason: "Sometimes, if you're doing your job ..."
Defense in unison: "The ball hits you in the face."
Added defensive assistant Tavita Pritchard, "That being said, Ed has been so opportunistic. He has a natural ability with the ball. He finds lanes and does a good job of setting up the blockers. There's a feel to it, and he obviously he has that."
Reynolds would never call a freshman knee injury a blessing in disguise. He tore the ACL and MCL during spring practice in April of 2011. The injury set him back as a player, causing him to miss the 2011 season, but sharpened his already-honed football mind.
While out of action, Reynolds sat with Mason in the press box and saw the game in a different way. He picked the brain of Pritchard, a former Stanford quarterback, and improved his ability to read that position.
"By the end of that season, I knew the defense forward and backward," Reynolds said. "Mentally, I hadn't lost a step. I was where I wanted to be."
Such was the back story to a season in which Reynolds became an All-America (AP third team; si.com second team) and first-team All-Pac-12 player.
"All he's taken is every opportunity to get better," Mason said. "If you leave nothing to chance, you have everything to gain.
"Look at him. He's a product of his own hard work."
"We're very proud of him," his father said. "He's had high expectations and he's lived up to those expectations."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics