Reed Runs His Way Into UVA History With 100-Yard Jaunt

By Scott Ratcliffe

Joe Reed (2) gets a bear hug from teammate Grant Misch after returning a kickoff for a touchdown (Photo by John Markon).

UVA senior Joe Reed didn’t think William & Mary was going to kick the ball to him in Friday’s game at Scott Stadium. Neither did his head coach, but everyone involved with the Cavalier football program is glad the ball came his way, if only just once.

With Virginia enjoying a comfortable 28-3 lead in the second quarter of the home opener against William & Mary, Reed needed just that one touch to provide the perfect response to the Tribe’s first points of the contest.

Taking the ball about three yards deep in the end zone near the visitors’ corner, Reed began working his way to the opposite side of the field towards the home sideline while giving his blockers a chance to set up a path.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound wide receiver and kickoff return specialist from Charlotte Court House had already found paydirt on the game’s opening drive (more on that in a second), but he wasn’t done.

Reed saw some daylight and made his move around the UVA 35-yard line, then cut back around midfield, and it was easy sailing the rest of the way to the house. One W&M defender made a desperate diving attempt when Reed crossed into Tribe territory, but the speedster said he believed he was untouched.

“I didn’t feel anything,” said Reed. “I don’t think so. Maybe at the end when the guy dove, maybe hit my foot or something.”

Reed said it was all just a matter of preparation, and Coach Bronco Mendenhall explained that the return game had been an emphasis in practice leading up to the home opener. Mendenhall was once again impressed by Reed’s unique abilities.

“Joe is the best kick returner that I’ve had a chance to coach,” said Mendenhall, who is in his 15th year as a head coach. “He’s got amazing speed and just has a knack and great vision and is very dynamic.

“I was surprised that the ball was kicked to him; I was hopeful it would be. We thought William & Mary was very aggressive on their [kick coverage] and we were impressed with that … Our intent was then to run around them and come to the field. It was executed well and blocked well.”

It was Reed’s fourth kickoff return for a touchdown, adding to his own career record at UVA, and he also became the fourth Wahoo to take one back 100 yards (the first since Marquis Weeks against the Tar Heels 15 years ago).

“That means a lot as well but it’s only the second game,” said Reed, “so hopefully I can just keep on going.”

Reed, who also holds the school record for total kickoff return yardage with 2,394, is the only player in Cavalier history to run a kick back for six points in three different seasons.

“That’s definitely one of my favorite things,” Reed responded when asked where returning kickoffs ranks for him. “Just being able to make something happen and just showing that I really trust my blockers.”

He admitted the 92-yarder against Georgia Tech in 2017 that helped the ‘Hoos clinch bowl eligibility stands out the most. Reed knows it’ll be less likely to have the ball kicked his way from here on out, but he has made peace with that reality.

“That’s fine with me because we have more guys,” Reed said. “We have [Tavares Kelly], we have [Billy Kemp], R.J. Harvey. We have a lot of playmakers, so if that’s the case, then I’ll just take it upon myself to block for them like they’ve been doing for me.”

As for Reed’s first touchdown against the Tribe, it capped off Virginia’s first offensive series with an athletic, twisting, 40-yard grab right at the goal line. It was originally ruled out of bounds just shy of the goal line, but Reed, who turned so he could cross the ball over the plane as he was falling out of bounds, said he knew it was a touchdown all along when the play went under review.

“Oh yeah, I knew,” he said. “I knew where I was and when I looked up, I kind of looked at the ref expecting it, so when they went to review it, I had a good feeling that they’d overturn it.”

Sure enough, the call was reversed and the ‘Hoos jumped out to an early lead and kept piling it on.

Reed’s record-setting score earned him ACC Specialist of the Week honors Monday. He was also selected after the game by his teammates to break the rock, a duty bestowed upon the Wahoos’ most valuable player.

“I was actually pushing for Mike Hollins to break the rock,” Reed admitted. “It means a lot. That’s what we work for every week — not only to break the rock, but just to win. When we warm up in the mornings, we have the rock in front of us with the [opposing team’s logo] on it, so ending the game getting to break the rock means a lot.”

Reed is one of the Cavalier players credited with starting the team’s “Believe” motto in the offseason, and he continues to see the overall belief in the success of the program grow.

“So Bryce Hall and I talked one day about how just all the hard work we do, all the preparation, that there’s no reason that we can’t come to games every day and just believe that we’re going to win,” Reed explained. “So we’ve been pushing the word believe, believe to the team and to the coaches just to have the faith that we can do whatever we want to do.”

Reed worked hard in the summer on his route-running ability and studying film to see how the great receivers do their thing, and said he has taken on more of a leadership role to help bring along the younger guys as well, something he learned from guys like former teammate Olamide Zaccheaus, who is now playing on Sundays.

“That was one of my goals in the summer; just to step up and just lead the way Olamide did, address the team the way he did as well…,” Reed said. “I’ve been watching more film, so when [the receivers] meet in the mornings, I can do a better job of explaining things to them. That’s just things that I’ve learned from like Andre Levrone and Olamide, so now that those guys are gone, I feel like it’s my responsibility to take that role.”

There’s a good chance Reed will get to play professionally down the road, but for now, he is locked in as one of this team’s deadliest weapons, and his belief in achieving greatness and accomplishing goals has already left an unforgettable stamp on the program.


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