The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 21, 2012

Reed hoping to follow fellow Johnstowners to the NFL

Mike Mastovich
mmastovich@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Antwuan Reed has heard his name mentioned in connection to the upcoming NFL Draft.

The Johnstown High graduate and two-year starter at the University of Pittsburgh might go anywhere from the mid to late rounds. Or, maybe he’ll be undrafted but sign as a free agent with an NFL team looking for help at cornerback.

Reed knows there is nothing more he can do after months of preparation.

The NFL Draft will unfold Thursday to Saturday. Perhaps, Reed’s phone will ring.

“It’s just a waiting game right now,” said Reed, an All Big East second team pick as a senior.

Hometown ties

One certainty is that Reed has had plenty of hometown support and advice from Johnstown-area players who have been through the NFL Draft experience with varying results.

Johnstown graduate Geroy Simon went undrafted in 1997 and didn’t stick with several NFL teams in the next couple years. Since then, Simon has found a home in the Canadian Football League and is 66 yards away from breaking the CFL’s all-time career record of 15,153 receiving yards.

“It was really nerve-wracking. I was projected anywhere from a third round pick to being a free agent,” said Simon, a University of Maryland product who now is a legend with the British Columbia Lions in Vancouver as he prepares for his 14th CFL season. “I just wanted to know where I was going to go, if I was going to get drafted or what team I was going to be with.

“I was in the dark. The days leading up to the draft, I remember Seattle calling me, Charlie Weis calling me when he was with the Jets. Other people called and said they were interested in me. Obviously when draft day came no one drafted me. It was very frustrating. The anticipation and anxiety was high.”

LaRod Stephens-Howling is another Johnstown High graduate who was a question mark on draft day in 2009.

Stephens-Howling eventually went to the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round. Like Reed, Stephens-Howling played collegiately at Pitt.

“It was like a weight lifted off your shoulders,” Stephens-Howling said of hearing his name called in the draft.

“It was a great moment to enjoy with my family. That’s a day you dream of when you first play football, to see your name go across the board when you’re drafted. It’s a great feeling.”

Stephens-Howling was an all-state running back at Johnstown, where he rushed for 4,597 yards. He was Pitt’s starting tailback for two seasons in college, and he finished up as a complement back to star LeSean McCoy.

Now, Stephens-Howling is among the NFL’s top kickoff return men and he’s emerged as a solid running back.

“I told Antwuan that he already did whatever he can control,” Stephens-Howling said. “He had a great season. He did a great job at the Pitt Pro Day. I went down there to see him perform. I told him everything else is up to God.

“I know I was worked up watching (the draft on television),” he added.

“You just have to relax yourself the best you can.”

A Trojan tradition

Reed followed Stephens-Howling at Johnstown. Like Stephens-Howling, Reed was a star running back who gained 4,276 yards and was an all-state pick. Reed played in the Big 33 game. He played 45 games at Pitt, making 187 tackles and two interceptions while being a part of four bowl appearances with the Panthers.

This season he had 30 tackles and a team-best seven pass break-ups. He recovered three fumbles, returning one 20 yards against Syracuse for a late touchdown that sealed a Pitt win and made the Panthers bowl eligible. Reed also recovered a blocked punt and returned it 10 yards for a score against Utah.

“I’m so excited for him. It’s great for him and how hard he’s worked,” said Johnstown High coach Tony Penna Jr., who was an offensive coordinator when Reed played under coaches Bob Arcurio and Kevin Marabito his final two seasons with the Trojans. “A lot of people thought he couldn’t make it at Pitt. He went down there and played four years. He’s worked hard and trained. He’s done well at the combines. We’re confident he will be drafted. It’s a nervous time for him.”

Reed was selected to two postseason all-star games, the Players All-Star Classic in Little Rock, Ark., and the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game in Tucson, Ariz. He participated in the Little Rock event.

The 5-foot-10 corner was invited to the NFL Draft Combine Feb. 22-28 in Indianapolis.

He later was part of the Pittsburgh Pro Day on March 16, where he shaved critical time off his 40-yard dash and improved his stock.

“His drills went real well,” said Stephens-Howling. “He’s a few years younger than me but I knew he always had the athletic ability, strength and speed to do it, but when I actually saw him do the drills he looked real good and I was excited about it.”

Reed also received encouragement from Artrell Hawkins, a Bishop McCort graduate who went onto the University of Cincinnati and was the Cincinnati Bengals’ second-round draft pick in 1998.

Hawkins had 10 years NFL experience at defensive back with the Bengals, Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots.

“I’ve talked to Antwuan a lot, and if I have any advice for him, I’d say unless you’re getting picked in the top 25 you’re going to have to work again,” Hawkins said. “You’re not going to be automatically set for life. If you go to any franchise and prove you’re mature enough to handle what the NFL throws at you, you’ll be around, you’ll be there.”

Hawkins said players put too much stock in the draft order.

“I knew I was going to get a chance to play in the NFL,” Hawkins said.

“But I was more worried about how high I was going to get drafted. You want to take care of your family. You want to be rewarded.

“Looking back, the right mind-set is to not worry about that draft status or position,” he added.

“You should be worried about one step ahead, working on your individual character, being reliable, being consistent and going in and taking someone’s job. That’s what the league is, competition.”

Community pride

Regardless of how the NFL Draft unfolds for Reed, coach Penna is confident the former Trojan eventually will be playing on Sundays.

“It’s great for our program and our community,” Penna said. “It’s another feather in the cap of Johnstown. Another local boy is going to join LaRod, Artrell, Geroy and Andrew (Hawkins).

“It’s one of those things you don’t imagine when it starts out. You don’t start out thinking a kid is going to be drafted. It’s good for the community and the Trojan family.”

Johnstown’s run of NFL success over the past two decades didn’t go unnoticed by Stephens-Howling. In addition to Simon, Hawkins and Stephens-Howling, McCort graduate Andrew Hawkins is coming off his first NFL season with the Bengals and he previously was part of two CFL Grey Cup titles. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Johnstown’s Carlton Haselrig was a Pro Bowl guard with the Steelers.

“It’s big for the area just to have a chance for three guys to be in the NFL at the same time next year,” Stephens-Howling said.

“It’s great for the area.”

Reed hopes he will be No. 3, but he’s trying not to think too much about the draft.

“I talked to LaRod about it and other people on my team,” Reed said.

“I’ll just try to keep myself occupied and try not to think about it and hope everything goes well. They just tell you that you’ve got to sit back and try to keep busy and not think about it too much.”