In the waning moments of Alabama's 38-0 romp of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff Semifinal, cameras zoomed in on a rather large man on the Crimson Tide's sideline. Seconds felt like minutes as colossal defensive tackle Jarran Reed strutted through his teammates, raising his python-sized arms to encourage a raucous Bama crowd for more.
With every step, Reed's smile grew and guys around him drew closer. There was an aura about Reed, who moments earlier was harassing the Spartans with his punishing, yet agile moves in the trenches. Reed has not only been a driving force on Alabama's terrifyingly good defense, he's been an emotional leader for an entire team on the brink of yet another national title.
“He’s the one who kick-starts everything for us," linebacker Reggie Ragland said. "As soon as he gets to talking, you can tell in his eyes that he’s bringing everything he’s got.
“When he’s going, we’re going. And when he’s not, we gotta get him going because he’s as disruptive as it gets in college football.”
Reed's journey to Alabama was windy. An unheralded linebacker from North Carolina, he got his first shot at collegiate ball at Hargrave Military College in 2011. Reed moved to defensive tackle, gaining 40 pounds in the process.
As a tackle, Reed gained more attention from FBS schools. He later attended East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Mississippi. Reed's play earned him even more interest. He committed to Ole Miss in Dec. 2012, but then picked Florida that following February.
However, because he lacked the needed credits to leave junior college, he stayed another year in Scooba. Reed's popularity only grew and after forging a friendship with then-dismissed Alabama defensive lineman D.J. Pettway, Reed turned his sights on Alabama, where both ended up in 2014.
“It humbled me as a person and a player," Reed said of his eventual signing with Alabama. "I respect everything more and don’t take anything for granted. The road I took was different, but it was needed.”
Reed's and Pettway's roads diverged in Tuscaloosa; Pettway spent the last two seasons as a serviceable reserve, while Reed has shined as one of Alabama's defensive stalwarts. It took Reed some time to make the transition from the juco ranks, he said. His immaturity stunted his development at times, such as when he was arrested for DUI in 2014. Reed said he had to learn to align himself with better people and close himself off from a sometimes reckless world.
Reed's play, however, has rarely been questioned. He earned All-SEC honorable mention in 2014 after starting 13 games and finishing with 55 tackles (the most by an Alabama defensive lineman since 2007), 6.5 tackles for loss, one sack and five pass breakups.
After flying somewhat under the radar, Reed has become a dominant presence for Alabama. He has 56 tackles this year, with 4.5 for loss and a sack, and eight quarterback hurries. Not exactly the sexiest of stat lines, but that's not what makes Reed so good. He constantly punctures double-teams and pushes plays to others. Those double-teams give Alabama's defense an advantage when offenses key in on Reed, who ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has going No. 11 to the New Orleans Saints in his recent mock draft and ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks as his No. 13 pro prospect overall.
"He’s the backbone, not just of our defense, but of our whole team," defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. "He’ll get the offense going, the special teams going. If you’re not having the best practice or the best game, he’ll let you know right there. He’ll tell you straight to your face, but he’s also somebody you can lean on during hard times."
And that's where Reed has really grown. His talent has always been there, but he has ignited his own play and that of others with his newfound energy and leadership. Reed said his teammates use his words and vivacious movements as emotional springboards. Ragland said he had to force words out of the somewhat laid back Reed because when players saw how good he was, they instantly wanted his guidance.
Coach Nick Saban says Reed wasn't assertive enough in 2014. But as he's found a mouth to go along with his game, it's made this defense -- and the entire team -- that much better. Younger players lean on him and players on both sides of the ball feed off his pregame speeches, post-play dances and sideline eruptions of passion. Reed is leading in ways he never imagined.
“There are always a few players who steer off, but he’s always been there to steer them back on the right path," defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson said of Reed. “He keeps the juice going."
Now, the wanderer is days away from playing in the national championship. Coming to Alabama, Reed says he always envisioned that happening, but actually being in the moment is somewhat stunning. With everything he's been through, it's almost unbelievable.
“To win one in junior college and then win one now at Alabama would be very special and a dream come true," Reed said.