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At wingback, Reed is primarily a receiving threat, and his speed makes him a terror on reverses. But Reed makes himself useful even without the ball. "Jake played on the line in high school, and he is one of the best blockers we have," says Eddie Robinson Jr., the offensive backfield coach and the son of Grambling's coach and legend-in-residence. "On sweeps around his end, he gets after linebackers like an offensive tackle."
Last year Reed also played tailback, which some scouts feel is his most natural position. Says Robinson Jr., "Then they see the film of his game against Mississippi Valley [in which he played wingback and caught four passes for 116 yards and a TD], and they say, 'I could see where you'd keep him at receiver, too.' "
The film that left scouts slack-jawed was Grambling's Division I-AA first-round playoff game last November against Stephen F. Austin State. The Lumberjacks first tried to cover Reed with a linebacker. He quickly scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass, and three minutes later he scored on a 19-yard run. So Austin covered Reed with a safety, also to no avail: He scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. By then, Lumberjack defenders were trying to take Reed out at the line of scrimmage. The strategy worked and Grambling lost, 59-56, a tough afternoon for defensive backs all around.
After watching Reed blaze through his back-to-back, sub-4.4's on Pro Day, the scouts took turns buttonholing him. "One guy with red hair—he was from one of the combines—told me to start acting like a pro now and to stay out of trouble," says Reed. "He said he couldn't see any reason why I shouldn't be making two or three hundred thousand dollars next year."
Reed tries not to think about the money, but it's hard. "I know you can't put all your hope in the NFL," he says. "You never know what will happen." Even as he talks so sensibly, Reed struggles to keep the excitement out of his voice. And fails. For a guy who was told he didn't belong in college, told he shouldn't even waste his time trying, just getting this far is a big deal.
Before kickoffs at Jackson (MISS.) State Home games, two buses transport the team across town to Mississippi Memorial Stadium. Intersections are cleared, a police escort is provided. Citizens holler encouragement. "For a poor kid, that's a heck of an experience," says coach W.C. Gorden. "I get chill bumps just thinking about it." Along the route, the players belt out impromptu chants and verses, boasting of the humiliations they expect to inflict on their foes. And, says Gorden, the brashest and boldest of his Saturday morning rapmasters is a senior wide receiver named Tim Barnett.
"Tim's got so much natural talent," says Gorden. "He could have been a ballet dancer, a poet or a blues singer. Instead, he's out there giving people the blues."
Those "people" are the opposing defensive backs. Pro scouts say that the sturdy, speedy Barnett will be one of the first wide receivers selected in next spring's NFL draft. Last season, Barnett caught 36 passes—a modest number—but averaged a decidedly immodest 23.8 yards per catch. Of course, if attitude were paramount in the NFL's annual auction, the 6'2", 205-pound Barnett might be the first player taken. Give a listen to the musings of this incorrigible football nerd.
Barnett on his off-season conditioning: "I like to run the steps at Memorial Stadium. I run them eight or nine times in the middle of the afternoon, when the sun is hottest." On two-a-days: "I enjoy them. You just have to remind yourself you're out there because you want to be. I try to turn my work into fun." On practicing in the rain: "It's actually kind of enjoyable."