"The man has a gift," Lynn says. "You can teach keys, reads and schemes, but feel? Nobody teaches what Ed has."
Munching on dry-roasted pistachios at the spring game of his high school alma mater, Destrehan, in April, Reed watched his brother Edwin, a junior wide receiver, and reminisced on his days playing for coach Scott Martin. Reed is respectful of his elders, particularly Martin, who helped him become an All-State defensive back and kick returner. "Back then everything was simple," Reed said. "It was, 'What do you want me to do, Coach? Because I'll do it.'"
Says Earnest Byner, who was the Ravens' player development director in 2002 and '03, "Ed has that old-soul mentality. He loves being around older people. His instincts are God-given, but his maturity comes from how he grew up."
That maturity, however, came slowly to Reed, who frequently skipped classes during his first two years at Destrehan. He took remedial courses and his grades were poor. The second-oldest of five boys, Reed says he had supportive parents who worked long hours. Ed Sr. was a ship welder and crane operator, and Karen was a hospital worker. His family's four-bedroom home was comfortable enough. What Reed lacked, he says, was focus.
Early in his junior year he made a decision that would change his life: He asked Jeanne Hall, the secretary for the assistant principal at Destrehan, if he could move in with her family. Hall was a mother figure to many of the school's discipline cases, several of whom were athletes. She offered her home, a modest house in a middle-class neighborhood less than a mile away from the Reeds, as an alternative to roaming the streets and getting into more trouble; it was a place where aimless kids could hang out and study, play video games or watch movies. "Ed didn't have the self-discipline to get his academics straightened out by himself," says Hall, who agreed to take him in. "He knew we would challenge him."
Now Reed had to persuade his parents to let him move out. Karen was 13 when she lost her mother to breast cancer and Ed Sr. was 19 when his father died of lung cancer. A close-knit family was important to both parents, but they also wanted the best for their children. Only a few months earlier Ed Sr. had told him, "Son, you don't ever want to make a living doing what I do." He and Karen realized Ed Jr. had a chance to go to college on a football scholarship, and they could see he wasn't going to make it unless his grades--and work habits--improved. After assuring his parents that he would come home often, Reed got their consent for the move. "It was hard to let Ed go, but I didn't want to tell him that," Karen says. "I knew Mrs. Hall, and I knew she wanted to help him."
Jeanne and her husband, Walter, a foreman at an oil refinery, provided Reed with a structured lifestyle. After football practice each night, for example, he usually napped until 9:30, then studied with Jeanne until midnight. His grades gradually improved, and he enrolled in tougher classes in his senior year. He was becoming more confident in his schoolwork, so much so that one night late in his junior year he shooed away Jeanne when she tried to help him with his math homework. When she checked his work later, Jeanne found all correct answers. "I actually can learn," Reed told her.
Since then, Reed says, he's been obsessed with realizing his potential. His motto became: Listen, learn, then lead. "There was something inside of me that [the Halls] brought out," Reed says. "And once I realized what I could do, I wanted to take it to another level. I saw if I did things right, people would follow me."
As a senior he had 83 tackles and seven interceptions and was recruited by Miami, LSU and Tulane. He chose Miami, where he was a two-time All-America safety, helped the Hurricanes win the 2001 national title and graduated with a degree in liberal arts. By his senior year he had established himself as one of Miami's leaders, on and off the field. Each weekday morning before the season he would wake up at 5:30 and direct his teammates through their off-season conditioning drills. At night he would join his friends and teammates at one of the area's many clubs, usually to make sure they avoided trouble.
After he was selected with the No. 24 pick in the 2002 draft, Reed gravitated to fellow Miami alum Ray Lewis. The two players watched game tapes for hours at Lewis's home, and they trained together in the off-season. Some teammates jokingly called Reed "Ray Jr.," but he didn't mind. He'd found another mentor, another Jeanne Hall. His interception total has increased each year in the pros--five as a rookie, seven in '03, then nine--and he's played in the last two Pro Bowls. "Some stars would be challenged by the rise of an Ed Reed," Ravens coach Brian Billick says, "but Ray isn't."