Distracted is an understatement.
The week after Florida fired Jim McElwain, the players couldn’t focus. They found out on Twitter. They were upset. They felt insulted. Especially the defense. On a unit that was already missing three of its starting seniors to long-term injuries, there was no one for players to look up to.
Someone had to step up. David Reese knew it. His dad, a former coach, knew it. But as a 19-year-old sophomore, David was hesitant to step on the toes of his senior teammates and take control.
The next Saturday, a 45-16 loss to Missouri splashed cold water on the face of a linebacker who was tired of seeing his team in disarray.
No more time for uncertainty. No more time to wait. David did something he didn’t have to do, but something he knew he should. After the game, David gave reporters something to write about.
“I just wanna say one thing,” he said. “I hate the way we represented our coaches like that today with this game.”
He kept going.
“It’s sometimes disappointing when everybody doesn’t want to come together and just play for each other. That’s sad to see.”
He kept going.
“We can’t have appearances like we just had today. That’s unacceptable.”
As a player, you’re not supposed to criticize your teammates. You’re definitely not supposed to question their effort after a loss. And you’re absolutely not supposed to do it in public in front of reporters.
But David wasn’t punished and his teammates weren’t angry. Everyone knew he was right. When a team without an SEC win scores 45 points on you, it’s not about talent or skill. The defense gave up in that game. But David wasn’t ready to give up on them.
If you think it’s unusual for a sophomore to be the outspoken leader of an SEC defense, you’re right. But if you didn’t see it coming, then you don’t know David Reese.
It killed him to see his teammates stop trying. Especially for a guy who gave up an opportunity to be a hometown hero to come to UF. David has always looked at the bigger picture, whether it means turning down Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, or flying around full speed in a game that’s out of reach to impress his next coach.
So if you’re bored when Florida faces UAB on Saturday at 4 p.m., watch No. 33. Because no matter what the score is, he’s playing each snap like a national championship is on the line.
Everything is calculated
David’s father, David Sr., had a master plan. A former Division I lineman, David Sr. knew how to play the recruiting game. As a high school coach, he sent 36 players to D-I programs in a six-year span. Spend a couple months with him and top-tier teams will beg to bring you onboard.
Living 40 minutes outside of Detroit, David Sr. put his son in the Police Athletic League, a youth football league sponsored by law enforcement in an effort to keep kids off the streets.
As a middle schooler, David was lining up against players he’d later see in the SEC.
When it came time for high school, David Sr. could’ve sent his son to Cass Technical — a Detroit powerhouse that churns out University of Michigan football players year after year. Makes sense, right? His wife and David’s mother, Ranesa, even worked there.
No way. How’s David gonna stand out on a field full of four- and five-star talent?
So David Sr. stuck his son in Farmington High, 40 minutes outside the city, where he was an assistant principal.
“That’s why I strategically put my son at (Farmington),” David Sr. said. “(I knew) when he came out to the suburbs, he was gonna immediately dominate.”
David quickly became a captain, barking orders by the time he was a sophomore.
But at 6-foot-1, David didn’t have the D-I size recruiters look for in a linebacker. So he needed to garner attention another way. University football camps were the next-best option. That’s where ambitious high schoolers pay to run drills on college fields for a few days. The players attend, hoping to catch the eye of a college coach. So did David Sr. send his son to the University of Michigan football camp, where the area’s top talent was sure to congregate?
“I never took my kids to the University of Michigan for football camp because I knew they wouldn’t be a big fish,” David Sr. said. “We would go and dominate University of Minnesota, dominate University of Indiana.”
It was impossible for David not to stand out at smaller camps. Even though two of the top-three recruiting sites pegged him as only a three-star prospect, calls started rolling in.
The plan keeps working
David zeroed in on Louisville. Not many colleges turn out more first and second round NFL draft picks on defense than the Cardinals.
“We really did our research as a family,” David Sr. said.
So in March of 2015, David verbally committed. But there was still another school sniffing around, trying to drag him away from the Cardinals.
It wasn’t Florida. It was Michigan and coaching icon Jim Harbaugh.
Louisville pushed David to make his commitment official. But it felt rushed, so David stepped back. Always looking at the bigger picture, he gave Harbaugh a chance to convince him.
Ten days later, he committed to Michigan. But college was still far off. David hadn’t played his senior season yet. And if he decommitted once, there was always a chance he might do it again.
Most recruits might be awe-struck when a coach who has taken a team to the Super Bowl tells you how great you are. But David didn’t get caught up in Harbaugh’s praise and pageantry. If he was going to suit up in maize and blue, he wanted three things first.
1) He wanted to play linebacker, not fullback.
2) He wanted to enroll in spring instead of summer, so he would have a head start at practice and a better shot of starting as a freshman.
3) He wanted admission into the school of business, so he had something to fall back on whenever his football career came to an end.
Of course, David heard a rumor that Harbaugh wanted him at fullback. So he called Harbaugh to ask him directly. Harbaugh said something like this:
David, No. 1, you are a linebacker. But we do feel like you can help us in a multitude of ways.
Nice try. David knew coach speak when he heard it. So he was faced with another decision: Take the chance, knowing that at any moment he could be moved to a new position, or keep his destiny in his own hands.
David’s senior season was a statement. By the time it was over, he stood as Farmington’s all-time leader in tackles.
Harbaugh called him back and conceded that David could play as a full-time linebacker.
“He hit us with a but,” David Sr. said. “Feeling good, he hit us with a but.”
I know you want to start early in January, but I need more offensive players.
It was one of the only things Harbaugh could’ve said to turn David off.
“If he would’ve gotten Michigan to give him a midyear (enrollment), he would’ve gone, even with the potential of being switched to fullback,” David Sr. said. “He knew if he got there in January, that nobody would’ve beat him out.”
Harbaugh only had space for one defensive player to come in midyear, and he chose a different linebacker named Devin Bush.
David wouldn’t compromise. He knew what he wanted. So as the deadline for recruiting began to approach, he put himself back on the market.
He sent game tapes to Texas. Texas offered him. David posted the Texas offer on Twitter. In the following days, he was flooded with a final wave of offers: Nebraska, TCU and Florida all wanted him.
Right before the deadline, high school stars in Michigan were invited to an annual banquet full of coaches and top recruits. David heard no closing argument from the Wolverines because Harbaugh didn’t show.
As David’s family pulled into their driveway after the banquet, two men stood by their front door at 9 p.m. Their names were Randy Shannon and Jim McElwain.
David was already close with Shannon, a defensive coordinator who had been in contact with David throughout the recruiting process. But the family wasn’t expecting to see Florida’s head coach waiting outside their door on a December night in suburban Michigan.
They all sat down inside and McElwain slipped a letter out of his jacket and slid it across the table.
Admittance to the Warrington College of Business.
Florida fulfilled all three requests. Its coaches guaranteed he’d play linebacker. They told him he could come in January. They let him into the business school. He stood up for what he wanted and got it. He committed to Florida that week.
Playing for pride
Almost two years later, the Gators are on the verge of their worst season in decades. They won’t go to a bowl game. They won’t have a winning record. They won’t earn a third straight SEC East title.
“We’ve pretty much been facing adversity throughout the whole season,” David said. “Combined with youth, suspensions, all the things that kind of scar a team.”
But David isn’t going to let a trainwreck of a season derail his goals. He’s not going to sit silently while the people who recruited him are embarrassed with loss after loss.
In a four-game stretch where every assistant is auditioning for a new job, David knew his team’s performance could cost his coaches their livelihood.
That’s why David called out his teammates after a loss to Missouri.
“At first I read the headlines and I’m like, ‘Man what did my son say?’” David Sr. said. “It was really his compassion for coach Shannon.
“He was disappointed because he knows that their jobs are in the balance, their families.”
Saturday, David and his teammates have a chance to prevent their season from slipping into a catastrophe. A threatening UAB team is salivating over its chance to come into The Swamp and step on the Gators’ throats.
“He knows that this can be a crazy pendulum swing to lose the fans,” David Sr. said.
If David were selfish, he’d be satisfied. He’s at one of the nation’s top public business schools. He’s starting as a sophomore on an SEC defense. He has more tackles than anyone on Michigan’s team, despite Florida having played one less game — a fact his dad was quick to point out.
David’s future won’t drastically change if UAB wins, 40-0.
But when you’re the leader of a team, you care about sending your seniors out strong, you care about the future of the program, you care about your coaches and you care about your teammates.
If he didn’t, he wouldn’t say a thing.
You can follow Matt Brannon on Twitter @MattB_727, and contact him at [email protected].