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Josh Reynolds goes from overlooked to can't miss at Texas A&M

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Quick: Name the SEC player who has more receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than anyone else in the past three years.

Give up?

If you guessed Calvin Ridley, Evan Engram, Christian Kirk, Travin Dural or Fred Ross, you would be close, but wrong.

The correct answer: Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds.

If the answer took you by surprise, you're probably not alone. Since joining the Aggies in 2014, the San Antonio product has been one of the conference's most consistent and productive receivers but rarely is his name first off the lips of observers rattling off the SEC's top pass-catchers.

He was far enough under the radar that, despite having more career receiving yards and touchdowns than any active returning SEC receiver this season, he failed to make any of the three preseason All-SEC teams (media or coaches).

"You think I brought that up?" Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said with a laugh and a wide grin. "We might have talked about that during fall camp. ... They were three deep. That meant there were at least six guys better than him. I had that discussion with him."

It's nothing new for Reynolds. The 6-foot-4, 193-pound dynamo was overlooked as a recruit coming out of John Jay High School in San Antonio.

A versatile athlete who ran track and played basketball in addition to football, he was evaluated by several colleges but virtually no FBS schools took a flyer. The one that did -- Oregon State -- earned Reynolds' interest enough that he took a visit to Corvallis but a few weeks after he returned, the Beavers informed him that receiver spots in the recruiting class filled up and his scholarship offer no longer existed.

"There were a lot of people that looked; most of the Big 12 schools came and saw him but nobody would pull the trigger," said Bobby Jack Goforth, Reynolds' high school coach. "It was really frustrating because we knew him pretty well and we felt like he had the ability to do what he has done. He's gone and proved us right."

It wasn't for lack of effort -- Reynolds was one of the San Antonio area's top high school receivers but also played safety as a senior (where he had three interceptions) and punted, kicked off and kicked PATs ("If he worked at it, he could have been a collegiate punter," Goforth said).

After Oregon State jumped ship, Reynolds mulled his options. His hurdling talents were good enough to attract collegiate attention and Texas A&M track and field coach Pat Henry actually offered Reynolds a partial scholarship. He considered taking the offer and trying to walk on with the Aggies' football team but felt he was good enough to earn a football scholarship. So he went to Tyler Junior College in East Texas where he met a former Texas A&M quarterback, Matt Davis.

"I had Matt as a roommate and he talked about [Texas A&M] all the time," Reynolds said.

Davis arrived at Tyler in late August 2013 after a year-and-a-half at Texas A&M and the pair struck up a friendship. Once he recognized Reynolds' talent, Davis, now a quarterback at SMU, informed his former coaches in Aggieland and implored them to take a look.

Sumlin said Henry, while recruiting Reynolds for his track team, also tipped off the coaching staff. Reynolds admits had he not gone the junior college route, he would have ran track for Henry. He was seemingly destined to end up in College Station one way or another.

"That's the crazy part about it," Reynolds said.

Reynolds excelled at Tyler and caught the attention of FBS schools that time around, picking up roughly a dozen offers. His familiarity with Texas A&M, the relationship he established with the coaches and the high profile the Aggies had as the Johnny Manziel era came to a close were all appealing.

More than anything, the role and production of Mike Evans, one of college football's best receivers at the time and an eventual first-round NFL draft pick, was something in which Reynolds envisioned himself.

"Basically, I kind of had a feeling Mike was about to leave," Reynolds said. "So that might be a chance for me to go in there and compete for a spot. I definitely liked how many times he was getting the ball. I thought I could maybe fill that spot, or try to."

"He's really becoming a complete receiver. You should see some of his efforts down the field blocking when he's the backside receiver. It's just those little things that you don't really notice in the stat line." Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone

Not only did he fill the spot, he did so admirably, catching 13 touchdowns in 2014, shattering the school record Jeff Fuller set in 2010 and Evans matched in 2013.

More remarkable than the record was the fact that Reynolds did it with a subluxation in his left shoulder that required surgery.

Reynolds said the injury dated to his high school days, but he thought they were "stingers" and kept playing through them. When he got to Texas A&M, the injury was discovered (basically, Reynolds' shoulder would slip out of its socket then pop back in). He was told he could have surgery, but he would miss the 2014 season. He decided to play through it.

"I had just got a starting spot," Reynolds said, laughing. "I couldn't go get surgery."

The injury mostly affected his blocking ability -- "When I would be latched on to a DB and then he would do like a jerk, it would slip out of socket" -- but he could run routes and catch the football, save for the occasional numbness.

"It was so bad at that point, when it would slip out then slip right back in," Reynolds said. "So depending on how bad it was, sometimes my arm would be numb for about three or four plays and I'd have to go out. If not, it'd just be a little tingly."

After an impressive debut season with the Aggies (52 receptions, 842 yards), Reynolds had the necessary surgery and came back stronger in 2015. While his production remained similar (51 receptions, 907 yards), his touchdown total dropped from 13 to five. This season, he leads SEC receivers in receiving yards (488), is on pace for another 50-catch season and should soon pass last year's touchdown total (he has four now). He's a key target for Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight, and is a true deep threat (19.5 yards per catch, second-best among SEC receivers).

"Josh has been huge, obviously with his deep-play threat and ability and just his consistency," Knight said. "He comes out to work every single day and has been so good at his preparation and his detail."

And that blocking that was once a difficult task with an injured shoulder? It's now one of the best parts of his game.

"He's really becoming a complete receiver," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "You should see some of his efforts down the field blocking when he's the backside receiver. It's just those little things that you don't really notice in the stat line."

As for that preseason All-SEC snub conversation with Sumlin, Reynolds said he doesn't dwell on it, but he uses it to fuel him. Being overlooked is nothing new to him, but his long, winding path to stardom is something he doesn't take for granted.

"I think it has helped me [succeed]," he said. "Basically putting that chip on my shoulder, trying to prove people wrong on the daily. It definitely made me grow up faster."