A Twist Of Fate, A Turn For The Better
Sept. 19, 2006
By Jeremy Wu, Sports Information Student Assistant
As a relatively unheralded local recruit out of Temple City High in 2003, redshirt junior tailback Desmond Reed had carved out a prominent role on the Trojan team by his sophomore year in 2005.
After beginning his USC career as a defensive back in 2003, he moved to tailback in 2004 and had grown into an offensive and special teams weapon by 2005.
But on Oct. 15, 2005, Trojan faithful everywhere held their collective breath as it watched one of its most beloved players tumble to the grass untouched on the Notre Dame field.
Recounting the details of the would-be kickoff return that ended in injury, Reed speaks rather matter-of-factly saying, 'I noticed that the ball was sailing in the wind so I had to back up. I turned to go backwards to catch the ball and my leg got caught in the grass and I hyper-extended my knee.'
In nothing more than a quick twist, Reed severely damaged his knee ligaments. Later, that twisted knee was found to have caused permanent nerve damage. 'I couldn't lift my foot and we thought that it was because of the swelling or maybe the wrap that I had on was too tight,' he said. Instead, Reed was diagnosed with a condition known as drop-foot, which he describes as an eerie 'non-feeling'.
Still unsure of the long-term effects of his injury, Reed didn't bother sitting around to find out. His high school coach and former USC fullback, Mike Mooney, recalls speaking with him that very weekend, 'His immediate thoughts were about how to get it fixed and what the timetable was going to be. There was never a doubt in his mind that he was going to beat it -- he didn't want anybody feeling sorry for him.'
As soon as he was able, Reed immersed himself into his rehab program. Trojan rehabilitation coordinator John Meyer said, 'It's just one of those things where he took the good with the bad and had to work aggressively to get back to playing. He knew that if he could get his leg right, he could compete and still be an integral part of this team and he's in the process of doing that now.'
USC head strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle has worked with many players through injuries but said, 'with Desmond, his mind was right, the trainers were right and the strength coaches were able.' Meyer added that, 'he was very positive. There was no complaining like `why did it have to happen to him?''
Throughout his rehabilitation, Reed leaned on the support of his friends and teammates. The Trojans experienced an unprecedented number of leg injuries in 2005 including ACL and knee related injuries among defensive backs Terrell Thomas, Kevin Ellison and Will Harris, linebacker Thomas Williams and fellow running back, Hershel Dennis (in the spring of 2006).'We had four or five guys who went down last year with knee injuries. A few of my teammates who were ahead of me had already started rehabbing and were a few months into getting better. We just all helped each other basically,' said Reed.
Throughout his football career, Desmond has never been the biggest guy on the field but don't let his diminutive stature fool you. This 5-foot-9, 180-pound tailback plays big and makes big plays.
Reed entered USC as an incredible athlete but bore the question mark as to what position he would contribute from. As a freshman in 2003, he practiced as a safety, a cornerback and eventually ended up as a wide receiver but never saw the field.
By the time he was moved to tailback permanently in 2004, fellow tailbacks LenDale White and Reggie Bush had become virtual household names. Indeed that season, the Trojan offense would be so efficient that Reed was able to get on the field when games were well in hand. Whenever he did, he would bring fans to their feet with his dazzling speed and cuts.
But that wasn't the only way the shifty running back was able to contribute to the national championship season. Reed appeared in all 13 games in 2004, racing down the field on kickoff coverage and racing back up the field on kickoff returns where he averaged 21.4 yards per return. Reed was even able to convert on a 55-yard pass to wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett that almost found its way into the end zone.
From his youth, Reed had been groomed to be a magnificent athlete, but, more importantly, through his time at USC Reed has grown up as a magnificent person.
Reed has always been a team guy, a characteristic instilled in him since his high school days. Coach Mooney said, 'Des was always first to give his teammates credit -- and never pointed at himself. I think what I have enjoyed the most about his personality is that he has not changed a bit since getting to USC.'
This unselfish attitude explains why Reed felt that having to watch his team play without him was the most difficult part of his time in rehab. 'It's something that I've always been a part of and you just miss being out there fighting day in and day out with your teammates.'
In fact, Reed missed football so much that he was spotted at a Temple City game only a few weeks after his injury. Coach Mooney said, 'He was with us -- big brace on his leg and crutches -- rooting like heck for his old team. He was not going to be down and out.'
Reed said of his visit, 'It's good to just go back and show love to your teammates and coaches and the community. I just wanted to cheer them on because I know they would do the same for me.'
Many news reports indicated that the injury sustained by Reed was career-threatening, but by the time 2006 spring practice rolled around for the Trojans, he was jogging lightly, well ahead of schedule. In the fall, Reed participated in non-contact drills at first but was so impressive throughout camp that he was named the starting punt returner for the season opener against Arkansas.
Against the Razorbacks, Reed had to settle for a handful of fair catches as a punt returner, but did carry the ball four times for seven yards and also caught one pass, getting his feet wet for the rest of the season.Not bad considering the reports from earlier this spring that said his career was over.
'People can say all kinds of different things about what's going on,' Reed said, 'but I didn't really let it affect me because I knew my progress and I knew how well I was doing. My doctors were telling me that I was improving.'
There's no question that Reed has the physical gifts to impress on the football field. Coach Mooney said, 'Desmond's ability to go from standing still to full speed is as fast as anybody. There was never any wasted movement or motion.'
Asked to compare his time spent in rehab to wasted motion, Reed expressed that he never felt his time away from the game was wasted at all.
'I'm the type of player who believes that everything happens for a reason. I believe that what happened at the Notre Dame game happened for a reason and I guess it's to make me stronger mentally and physically,' Reed said. 'You've just got to bounce back from things. It's the players who get hurt and get down who don't succeed when they come back or who don't come back at all.'
Said Carlisle: 'I think his attitude is a blessing to this team because he stayed strong, he stayed focus and he held the course when everything was against him.'
Added Coach Pete Carroll: 'He has given us some juice because he is such an intense kid and fires up everyone on the sidelines and in the meetings. He is just such a great kid and to see him overcome what he has overcome to play at this level has really been inspiring to a lot of us.'