Jan. 31, 2014
By Steve Irvine
The perspective that Alabama men's track and field thrower Hayden Reed needed when he learned he would redshirt during his first season in Tuscaloosa did not come immediately. The Texas native certainly didn't open his arms to the idea upon first glance and, as he put it, found it "hard to find any positive."
In hindsight, however, it's hard to find anything negative about the progression that Reed made during his first year in Tuscaloosa. Long before what would have been his first college season began, in fact, he realized how beneficial the season away from competing in meets would be in making him better.
"I would have to say probably December, right before Winter Break, we did a max and I saw a huge jump," said the 6-foot-3 Reed, whose squat total improved by more than 100 pounds. "After being in this program for a semester and seeing an increase, you just start to think, `Well, I've got an entire year to do this and then have four more to do it and compete'."
It's certainly hard to argue with the results. Not only did Reed make himself bigger and stronger with his weight room work but he also improved technically. The hard work paid off during an amazing summer when Reed captured a win in the discus competition in the USA Track and Field Junior Championships in Des Moines, Iowa and followed with another win in the Pan American Junior Championships in Medellin, Colombia.
His work toward winning such illustrious titles began long before the Orange, Texas. It began in the backyard of his childhood home, where his parents, Neville and Ellen, had a concrete throwing ring poured. He spent long hours working in the backyard, often with his mom returning the discus after each throw.
Accuracy mattered during the practice sessions, which is one reason that he rarely throws outside the lines. If he threw the discus too far right it landed in the woods. If it traveled too far left then it went into a pond. Either way it wasn't a pleasant experience trying to get the discus back.
"Luckily the pond didn't happen often but, till this day, when I'm throwing at home, I still have to go get one out of the woods every couple days," Reed said. "Maybe not every practice, but I'll have a bad one that comes out too early and I'll go track it down in the woods. It's really bad when they're dark or green. I've actually lost one in there and still have no idea where it is."
Reed was a two-sport star at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High, excelling in track and football. He was the top Texas thrower during his final two years, winning the state in the discus as a junior and senior and the shot put as a senior. He finished second in the shot put as a junior. He was also a three-year starter for the football team.
"When I first got here, it was toward the end of his freshman year," said Randy Crouch, the head football coach and athletics director at Little Cypress-Mauriceville. "You could tell that there was a little bit something different about him, just his work ethic and just the way he went about his business. I didn't see him play ninth-grade football but I saw him towards the tail end of his track season. I just thought to myself, 'this kid is really good'."
Crouch also found out quickly that Reed was a special football player. Reed, a tight end-defensive end, earned all-district honors in all three varsity seasons.
Crouch said he distinctly remembers a couple of plays that showed how dominant Reed could be on the football field. The first one came during a punt by the opposing team when Reed rushed, drove the personal protector into the punter and then fell on the football in the end zone to open up a close game. The other time came on an option play when Reed grabbed the quarterback with one hand, the running back with his other hand and brought both to the ground.
"There were situations he could do that, where they just couldn't handle him," Crouch said. "As coaches a lot of times, you look at film to see if somebody can make an impact, either defensively or offensively, that can really change the course of the game. He can do that."
Recruiting interest came in both sports but the majority of it on the gridiron was from Football Championship Subdivision teams. Crouch said some bigger schools - like Texas A&M - took a hard look at Reed but most of the offers came from smaller schools.
"Football is emperor, there is no other," Reed said of his home state. "Pretty much every town in Texas there is football and the only reason to do track is to stay in shape for football next year."
Reed figured out as a junior that track was much more for him. He received heavy recruiting interest from most of the powerhouse programs and conferences in the country. Alabama head coach Dan Waters and the Crimson Tide coaching staff won the recruiting battle.
"It was a lot of things," Reed said. "The coaching staff, I'd say, hands down, is number one. The entire staff, everybody loves what they're doing; everybody wants to be a winner. It's not just for the paycheck, they want to be here. I'd say that's the most striking thing that caught my attention. And also just this campus is beautiful."
Alabama assistant coach Doug Reynolds, who coaches the throws, said Reed is "the most powerful freshman I've ever coached physically." Reynolds also said it wasn't a difficult decision to redshirt his prize recruit.
"We felt like his long- term potential was significant and his value to the team in a fifth year was far greater than his value to the team in his first year," Reynolds said. "We're trying to lay the foundation for the long term of our program. We wanted to really try to develop some superstars and we identified him as a guy who could be that."
Reed showed his ability this summer, beginning in Des Moines when his only legal toss of the day traveled 206 feet, 2 inches to easily outdistance the field. The win earned his spot on the U.S. team in Pan Am Junior Championship.
"At first the nerves were running real high," Reed said. "Once you get there, you start thinking `Wow, these guys must be pretty good.' The more you started throwing the more you just realized they are just like you."
The Pan Am games raised the bar a notch. Reed's winning toss of 205 feet came on his sixth and final throw of the day.
"That was his first international competition, his first time donning a U.S. jersey, his first time competing for more than just Hayden Reed, his family, his high school, whatever," Reynolds said. "And the way he stepped up and competed. He put himself in a tough spot in the competition, where he was fighting out of a hole. He had to fight his way through the competition."
Reed said the accomplishment didn't sink in until afterwards.
"It didn't fully hit me until the award stand," Reed said. "That was kind of the real emotional moment where you realize it's the real deal."
Now it's on to becoming the real deal in the NCAA.