Sorensen: Former UNC kicker Reed can't kick NFL habit

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comDecember 14, 2012 

— It is a fine family gathering on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Jeff, the son, and Pam, the mom, are first to arrive. Morris, the dad, joins them. Friends of Jeff’s show up. The loudest and most persistent voice belongs to Jeff’s trainer, whose name is Mike but whom everybody knows as Boss.

The centerpiece of the gathering is football. Everybody has come to Rocky River High to watch Jeff Reed kick footballs.

Reed sets his tee on the 40-yard line of the artificial turf field known as The Rock.

He is just getting loose. He will kick nine balls from the 40, nine 50-yard field goals.

The first is good. The second is good. So are the third and the fourth and the next five.

“The warm-up thing is, just, yeah, you want to hit it straight,” Reed, 33, says Sunday. “But I want to hit it solid and I hit all nine today. Today was a great day. But that’s what I can do and that’s what I’m capable of and that’s why there’s no such thing for me as giving up.”

Reed, 33, wants to return to the NFL. He kicked nine seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers and has two Super Bowl rings to prove it. He set a Steelers record by kicking 22 straight field goals.

Before Pittsburgh, he kicked at North Carolina. Before North Carolina, he played soccer and kicked for East Mecklenburg High.

Pittsburgh cut him during November 2010. San Francisco picked him up in December and he converted nine of 10 field-goal attempts. The 49ers didn’t keep him. He signed with Seattle during August 2011, missed one kick during the preseason – it was blocked – and was released in September.

He is back in Charlotte and he trains with Boss four days a week and kicks on Sunday. Sundays are when he did most of his work with the Steelers, and it’s as close as he can get to a game.

Pam wipes the morning rain off the benches at The Rock so visitors will have a dry place to sit. Morris charts his son’s kicks, same as he has since Reed kicked for the Tar Heels.

“A lot of people I know, at every position, once they get cut, they’re done,” Reed says. “They turn into lazy bums and they gain a lot of weight and they don’t pursue their dream anymore.

“But it’s my dream to get back. I made plenty of money and I have two rings. But the thing about it is when you’re competitive and you can do something, why not do it?”

The friends retrieve the balls Reed kicks and don’t have to work too hard. Every kickoff reaches the end zone. So far, every field-goal attempt is good.

Why isn’t Reed kicking in the NFL?

“I don’t know,” he says. “There were a couple of things I got in trouble with the law, very minor.”

He was cited for disorderly conduct and criminal mischief during February 2009 for wrecking a paper towel holder inside the bathroom of a convenience store. He was cited eight months later for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. That was October. In November, after he missed a 26-yard field-goal try against New England, Pittsburgh let him go.

Reed is different the way kickers once were expected to be different. He once dyed his dark hair blond. When he kicks at The Rock, he wears a black shirt and black shorts and bright green socks. When we meet Thursday afternoon he wears a bright green hoodie and shoes.

“I like to brighten everyone’s day,” he says.

Nice.

Chris Stretch, a former kicker and punter at Appalachian State who has kicked at camps at which Reed works, says this about his friend:

“What makes Jeff special is his focus and determination. The man is a perfectionist. The pressure is so high. So you have to be able to joke.”

Also, 33 is old for a football player. Steve Smith is the oldest player on the Carolina Panthers’ roster, and he was born during May 1979. Reed was born a month earlier.

Carolina kicker Graham Gano is 25. The Washington Redskins cut him during August. The Panthers signed him Nov. 21 after they cut Justin Medlock. The Panthers cut Olindo Mare during training camp to keep Medlock. The Chicago Bears signed Mare on Tuesday. He is 39.

“It was more frustrating than anything else,” Gano says about his three months out of work. “I did win the job in D.C. and got cut the next day. At the same time, coach (Mike) Shanahan told me I could be a starter in this league.”

But how do you convince the NFL to remember you? How do you know it will?

“I think you have to stay confident and hope you get another opportunity,” Gano says. “I mean, it’s all about timing and what teams want, so hopefully (Reed) gets another shot.”

Thursday morning, at about the time the sun comes up, Reed is at the gym doing what Boss tells him, squats and running and more squats and jumping rope and more squats and strengthening his legs and pushing and being pushed. Kicking will wait until Sunday.

“I’m not going to forget to kick,” Reed says.

He thinks he is better now than when he was a decade ago.

“I realize an opportunity might have slipped away,” Reed says. “It really focuses me.”

Reed’s longest field-goal attempt at The Rock is 55 yards.

The ending to this column would be more dramatic if the ball deflected off the goalpost and dangled in the air a few titillating seconds before it tumbled over the upright. Alas, there is no deflection.

The kick would have been good from 60.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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