Nearly every evening, John Reid and his father would huddle together to watch the NFL’s greats on YouTube -- Barry Sanders’ stutter-step, Emmitt Smith’s vision, Walter Payton’s broken tackles -- and the fifth-grader would ooh and ahhh as if he were watching an action-drama.
He’d try to emulate those YouTube greats on the Pee-Wee football field, his father smiling at the half-hearted attempts to raise his knees like Eric Dickerson. Reid tried to take everything he could from those clips. He never wanted to stop watching.
Really, he never did.
Reid, now a sophomore cornerback for Penn State, remains a film junkie, an underclassman who helps the upperclassmen break down tape. Even he isn’t sure how much film he watches -- because he never goes a few hours without flipping on his smartphone or iPad.
“When it comes to film, John Reid’s on a whole other level,” running back Saquon Barkley said. “I’m trying to get to John Reid’s level, to be honest. He’s fantastic with that.”
The eight-game starter -- who boasted Pro Football Focus’ third-highest CB grade in Week 6 -- will stare at film between classes and before meetings, in the training room and in his bedroom. It’s not just Penn State tape or opponent film, either -- he requests NFL film from the likes of the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers. Every week.
He asked the Nittany Lions’ film staff to help him set up software so he could also watch on his laptop. He even requested tape of every NFL interception from the 2015 season.
“And this year, he’s like, ‘Can I watch some preseason games?’” video coordinator Jevin Stone said with a laugh. “It’s like, who watches preseason games?”
“I worked hand-in-hand with Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts,” Stone continued, “and Reid’s right up there with him when it comes to film.”
Reid’s obsession started in grade school, but it was nurtured at St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia. Reid was the team’s most athletic player, even as a freshman, so the varsity coach asked the running back if he’d move to corner in Week 9 to cover one of the area’s best -- wide receiver Will Fuller, who now plays for the NFL’s Houston Texans.
St. Joe’s coach Gabe Infante then tossed a VHS tape his way, an instructional bump-and-run video from well-known college coach Greg Brown. He jokingly asked Reid to write up a report on what he learned.
Infante found a two-page paper on his desk the next day.
“I didn’t know he was joking at the time, because I was just a freshman,” Reid said with a laugh. “I had just never known you could do so many different things at the position because, at running back, it seems like it just comes so natural to those guys.”
Reid began to request more instructional tapes from his high school coach, essentially watching one every day and returning it. Fuller wound up with no catches that game, which only increased Reid’s appetite for film.
“When people heard me talk about him, they were like, ‘You must have a man-crush on him or be embellishing,’” Infante said. “And I’m like, 'No, I’ve just never seen anything like this. In 20 years, I’ve never seen anything like this.'”
Sometimes, at 2 a.m., his night-owl coach would receive a text from Reid asking about some subtle move on the film cut-ups. That may be why Reid is so coy now about just how much film he watches.
When Penn State’s video coordinator logs into the system early in the morning, sometimes he’ll already see Reid is up and watching on his iPad. During dinner with his father on Saturdays after each game, he’ll break out his phone or iPad to look closer at different clips.
He broke down Ohio State film at 1 a.m. on Oct. 10 -- nearly two weeks before the game kicks off on Saturday. And he said he’ll watch the most film on Fridays, the night before games. How much?
Reid just smiled wide and started laughing.
“I stay up a good amount,” he said. “Lights out is probably 11, sooo -- that’s all I can say.” He paused. “Or maybe it’s 10:30. Anyway, I try to get a good amount of sleep. That’s probably about all I can say.”
Added his father, also named John: “It’s kind of funny. Sometimes I got to tell him, as his father, ‘C’mon, now. Let’s go do something fun. What do you want to do?’ And he’ll say, ‘Let’s go to the field and work on some stuff.’ To him, fun is getting better at what he does.”
Reid has always been like this. Even during Penn State’s annual recruiting BBQ, Reid milled around the event for 20 minutes as a high school senior before he bumped into then-defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who told him about some Seattle Seahawks footage they just received.
“Really? You have it now?” Reid asked. “Can we watch it?”
Reid stayed in the film room for 90 minutes to two hours, breaking down plays from the Seahawks’ secondary. He can’t remember how much BBQ he ate.
“I think it got to the point where they were like, ‘OK, it’s time to go back down. You got to leave,’” Reid said with a laugh. “We almost lost track of time up there, and that’s how it is for me when I watch film now.”
Reid currently leads all Penn State cornerbacks with three pass breakups and four deflections. He also promised 12-year-old Josiah Viera an interception before the Temple game, and then came through with the game-sealing pick. He’s a quiet leader and hard worker who came into Happy Valley with his eyes on the Jim Thorpe Award.
And, so far, it’s that fervor for film that’s helped lead to that success. Penn State’s video coordinator said that Reid’s standard has even influenced his teammates, leading the entire secondary to break down film on their days off and log on to their iPads more often. How can outsiders tell?