NSD 2016: Reed kicks his way to Duke
By Tim Gayle
PRATTVILLE – AJ Reed has always loved soccer. But as he sat at a table with his Prattville High football teammates on National Signing Day, the senior placekicker said football, not soccer, earned him an opportunity to continue his athletic career at Duke.
“It’s pretty crazy to be here now,” Reed said. “In the ninth grade, Coach (Chad) Anderson asked me to kick for the football team, or try it out. So I did. I got involved in a company called ‘One on One.’ They train kickers all over the nation. They really helped me to develop and, man, it’s paid off. The opportunities that football offers is just insane.”
Reed was one of four Prattville High players signing on Wednesday, joining linebacker Will Smith (Huntingdon), offensive lineman Cody Wyatt (Furman) and defensive end Dee Steele (Arkansas Baptist Community College). A fifth, tailback Kingston Davis, signed early and is enrolled at Michigan, while another, linebacker Dytarious Johnson, may sign with Michigan in a few days pending transcripts from Selma High, where he transferred as a freshman.
“We’re blessed,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of recruiters who come through here from our reputation. It’s not only the athletic part of the school, it’s the academic part of the school. The requirements from the NCAA keep going up but they know if they come in here and we put a kid in front of them, he’s going to be academically qualified nine times out of 10. That’s a testament to our teachers and our staff, how hard they work these kids.”
Reed considers himself blessed as well. The product of a military family that made several moves, he grew up with a love for soccer.
“There’s still a love for soccer,” he observed. “It was my first love. I don’t play anymore but I still enjoy it. But football is where my heart is now.”
Arriving at Prattville High as a freshman in 2012, he decided to give football a try, giving up soccer the following year to concentrate entirely on his new sport.
“He was a scrawny kid in the ninth grade when he got here,” Anderson said. “A receiver and a kicker, a good athlete. You knew he could be our next kicker in the ninth grade, but his work ethic is out of this world. He really pushes himself.”
He was ranked the No. 11 kicker nationally by Scout and was selected to participate in the 10th annual Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, where he kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the American team the victory.
As a senior at Prattville, he earned honorable mention all-state honors after kicking 7 of 12 field goals and 32 of 33 extra points. He also recorded 32 touchbacks on 44 kickoffs. As a junior, he established his career long with a 48-yard field goal and made all 65 extra-point attempts.
He earned those accolades after attending Mike McCabe’s “One on One Kicking” camp and “Kohl’s Kicking” camp, two summer exposure camps dedicated to kicking.
“That really helped with recruiting,” he said. “Those two really got me here today.”
He looked at Alabama, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech as possible collegiate choices, but a 32 score on the American College Test helped open more doors as new NCAA academic guidelines go into place this fall.
“Academics has always been my top priority,” he said. “That’s going to carry me further in life than football. I think Duke is one of the best places to combine top-notch football and a top 10 university in the USA.”
For a guy who never thought about football until he arrived at Prattville, it only makes sense to adopt a highly acclaimed academic institution that is known more for its basketball but is striving to make a name for itself in football. Reed and Duke seem like a perfect match.
“I’ve moved all my life,” he said. “My dad’s in the military so I never really had ‘my team.’ I always told myself wherever I went to college, that was going to be ‘my team.’ When I committed to Duke this past summer, it was pretty final. The combination of academics and football can’t be beat, anywhere.