CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just before 11:30 on a Friday morning, Bernard Reedy gets a buzz on his phone with an address. It’s for a client who needs Reedy to pick him up.
The 25-year-old Reedy climbs into a large white van and heads down U.S. Highway 19. It will be the first of several pickups for a rather unique offseason job for an NFL wide receiver: working as a driver for Care Ride, a Tampa-area company providing wheelchair and ambulatory transport.
Care Ride is similar to Uber and Lyft, but for people with wheelchairs. Drivers must receive special training to operate lifts in the vans and properly secure patients. They must be first-aid and CPR certified, and undergo sensitivity training.
Reedy, who is trying to stick with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a stint with the Atlanta Falcons, pulls up to a quiet mobile-home park in Largo. He greets his first client of the day, Carlos Velez, who is waiting under a carport.
Velez, 70, served in Korea and Vietnam and is now confined to a wheelchair. He still has some walking ability, but he fell last year and suffered a hematoma, forcing him to undergo brain surgery. A wheelchair helps him get around safely.
“Is that your motorcycle?” Reedy asks as he gently pushes Velez toward the van.
Velez responds, “I used to have one, but I sold it because of my vision.” He points to his right eye. “I’m legally blind.”
Reedy says, “I like motorcycles. ... You ever rode a dirt bike?”
Velez responds, “Back home in Puerto Rico when I was young. I always had a Honda. The last Honda I had was a 1300.”
The two have ridden together in the van before. Their conversations are usually centered around the weather, politics, restaurants and how Velez is feeling physically. Sometimes Velez airs out his frustrations with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Despite their many conversations, Velez forgot that Reedy is an NFL player. Most of his clients have no idea. And why would they? Most NFL players don’t have side jobs like Reedy's. Only a few of his Bucs teammates know about his other gig that pays him $11 an hour.
“All my other teammates that I know that I personally talk to, they all caked up -- they all got money, a whole lot of money,” says Reedy, who has a $465,000 base salary with the Bucs for this season, but it’s not all guaranteed. “When I get to that tax bracket with them, I’m going to continue to work here during the offseason. ... You always want to be grateful.”
Getting a job 'so I could continue to live’
When the Falcons waived Reedy in 2015 and he had trouble landing with another team, he moved to St. Petersburg, right outside Tampa, and back into his childhood home. It helped ease the burden of having to pay rent, and it allowed him to continue to train while looking for work.
"The money in your savings is only going to last so long. I had to go out and get a job so I could continue to live," Reedy said. "You want to always have something you fall back on. If you don't work, you don't have any more income, so it's just decreasing. You've gotta go find a way to make some money."
As an undrafted free agent out of Toledo, Reedy had spent the entire 2014 season on the Falcons’ practice squad, earning $108,600, according to NFLPA records. But in 2015, because he took part in only OTAs, he made $6,240 from football. That’s how unpredictable the NFL can be for a player like Reedy.
He spent the entire 2015 season at Care Ride, working eight-hour shifts, five days a week, including Sundays. He didn’t listen to NFL games on the radio because that was too hard. He listened to gospel music instead. Faith is what kept him motivated.
In February 2016, he signed a futures contract with the Bucs, reuniting with head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator and former Falcons coach Mike Smith. Reedy suffered a torn meniscus in the preseason and was waived/injured. He re-signed with the Bucs' practice squad after he healed in December and was on the 53-man roster for two games, earning $85,879 for the season, according to NFLPA records. That figure does not include an injury settlement.
"When I get to that tax bracket with [my teammates], I'm going to continue to work here during the offseason. ... You always want to be grateful." Bernard Reedy
Through it all, Care Ride has been accommodating with his NFL schedule, allowing him to work three days a week when the offseason begins. Now that the Bucs are into offseason conditioning, he’s at the team facility four days a week and cuts back to once a week or every other week with Care Ride.
When it’s the regular season, the focus is 100 percent football. But if football isn’t in the picture, he can work more shifts.
"They know that my other job is like a dream come true, so that comes first," Reedy said of Care Ride. "They understand. A lot of them like sports that work there.
"I could still see me doing this [after football]. I'm financially stable enough now that I could be OK if I didn't do this, but why sit home after you're done working out, going over your plays and stuff? Why sit home when you can come out and make you some more money and help people on top of that? And I'm talking about really helping people, helping people who can't help themselves."
Football isn’t entirely forgotten when Reedy is on the job. If there's a lull between pickups, he said he'll pull over to study his playbook or read the Bible. He also turns the van into a portable gym at times.
"I'll put my feet up on the [seat] and do some incline pushups and then I go and do dips," said Reedy, who also tries to find a large parking lot so he can get out and do sprints.
Finding perspective and making connections
The NFL is a brutal business and Reedy knows it. You can get injured or cut at any moment, but it pales in comparison to the hardships many of his clients have endured. That keeps Reedy grounded.
"A lot of people ... you may think you’re sacrificing a lot until you hear somebody else’s story," Reedy said. "And when you pick up the same people every week, you get attached to them.”
That makes it difficult when they pass away. He still thinks about Michael Banks and Robert Latoza.
"[Michael and I] used to talk about muscle cars. He used to build engines," Reedy said.
Latoza, who died a year ago, "was my dog. That's what we called each other. That was my dog."
He left cards at their doorsteps after they passed, sharing some of the stories he was told on their trips together.
It's that level of compassion that endears Reedy not just to his clients but also his co-workers.
“He was one of the youngest employees we’ve ever hired," manager Vince Cocks said. “He’s done a wonderful job for us.”
The two have known each other since Reedy was 16, when Cocks and his wife would attend Reedy’s games at Lakewood High School. He remembers the time Reedy won the game against Countryside High in 2009, when he ran back a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
But there's much more to Reedy than just football, and Cocks makes that clear. Even though sometimes he has to bolt off to practices and can't work for months at a time, Reedy is an asset to them.
“He’s very personable. We get calls from our clients just saying how good and polite and safe [he is]. And he takes the time with them," Cocks said. "We hope he does well over there [with the Bucs]. Naturally, we’d like to have him here, but we want him to play football.”