It was December 2016 and Willie Taggart’s decision to leave the University of South Florida for Oregon created a ripple into Greg Reaves’ world.
The former Manatee High standout’s future suddenly was in doubt.
After transferring from Air Force Prep Academy to become a preferred walk-on at USF, Reaves built himself into a potential scholarship player when Taggart bolted for the Pacific Northwest.
Reaves started talking with his family about what to do.
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Reaves said his dad, Greg Sr., wanted him to transfer before the spring.
The younger Reaves opted to stay.
It proved to be the best decision as new head coach Charlie Strong awarded Reaves’ hard work with a scholarship at the beginning of the 2017 season.
Now Reaves, a starting defensive end on the 9-2 Bulls, is preparing to cap a whirlwind year with the Birmingham Bowl against Texas Tech on Saturday.
“Last year I was a key special teams guy,” Reaves said. “This year coming in as one of the starters, getting a lot of playing time. It’s really special being in the defensive meeting rooms and learning the game plan.”
But before the 2017 season started and before the coaching change at USF, Reaves was stuck fighting and grinding for his chance.
Equipped with a tireless work ethic and an increased physique since his playing days at Manatee, Reaves blossomed with his technique in the eyes of Strong that culminated with the scholarship offer one day in USF’s weight room.
“I almost didn’t realize it had happened,” Reaves said. “It was almost like disbelief.”
But it did happen.
Reaves credits Saint Stephen’s assistant coach Steve Gulash, who was coaching at Manatee when Reaves played for the Canes, with helping his transition to defensive end.
Reaves began his high school career in the secondary, then maneuvered his way to linebacker for his senior season as he continued growing.
The rigid military-styled regimen at the Air Force Prep Academy didn’t mesh with Reaves, he said.
Transferring to USF, Reaves began his career at linebacker until moving to the defensive line in the spring after his freshman year.
That summer, Gulash helped Reaves into the defensive end role.
“I had never really played defensive end since I was in Little League,” Reaves said. “And they don’t teach much technique in Little League.”
Reaves is tied for fourth on USF’s defense with 48 tackles and tied for the team-lead with 13 tackles for a loss. He also has four sacks, six quarterback hurries and three pass breakups.
Not bad for a player whose future was in doubt last December.
The pivotal decision to stay in the spring saw Reaves rise from third or fourth on the depth chart to a starter’s role by the end of the spring.
“Instead of putting it in his own hands, I put it in God’s hands,” Reaves said about the choice to stay with USF. “It was definitely leap of faith.”
A leap of faith that panned out for a player Gulash said is humble, has a great work ethic and comes from a good family.
And someone Gulash said will have a chance to pursue the NFL dream in the future.
“He’s so unbelievable off the edge,” Gulash said. “He’s got it. ... Greg looks a lot like Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie did. He’s long. He looks like a praying mantis player when he’s out on the field.”
Reaves said he’s blessed Strong gave him the scholarship and that he’s family is proud of him for not giving up.
That includes his father, Greg Sr.
“My dad vocally tells me a lot of how proud he is of me overcoming,” Reaves said. “He said he wanted to quit for me sometimes going through what I was going through. And how it seemed like it wasn’t going to work out.”
But Reaves’ faith and patience did work out.
And now USF’s defense is benefiting.