CHARLOTTESVILLE — It wasn’t too long ago that an NFL scout asked Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall if he thought UVa wide receiver Joe Reed could play running back at the next level.
“I played running back a couple of years in high school,” said Reed, a senior from Randolph-Henry High School adjoining the Virginia-North Carolina border. “I played quarterback; I played receiver.
“I would love to line up and play running back. I’m more than capable of doing it.”
Don’t count on Reed (6 foot 1, 215 pounds) lining up in the backfield Friday against Virginia Tech but it can be assumed that Reed will have the ball in his hands.
Reed enters the game with 4,494 all-purpose yards in his career, including 1,347 yards on 117 career receptions.
He’s probably at his most dangerous on kickoff returns and ranks second on the all-time ACC list with 2,989 yards. The all-time leader is N.C. State’s T.J. Graham with 3,153 yards on 137 returns from 2008-11.
Reed’s multiple skills even prompted Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente to bypass commenting on Cavaliers’ quarterback Bryce Perkins before first mentioning Reed.
“[He has] really helped their team not just with points, but field position,” Fuente said.
Nagging injuries have placed Reed in and out of the lineup in recent weeks, including the Cavaliers’ 55-27 victory over Liberty this past Saturday.
Freshman Seneca Milledge, who had the fastest 100 meters time in the country coming out of high school last year, had four returns for 131 yards against the Flames.
Reed said Milledge is the fastest player on the team “by far.”
Either way, what that part of special teams has done for UVa is obvious on film, according to Virginia Tech’s coach.
“It starts with a great kick, but I think what has separated [the Cavaliers] in their kickoff return unit is ... most of the time we know where the ball is going to be kicked, so sometimes people will try to kick it across the field or sky kick it or whatever to kind of mix up your returns,” Fuente said. “To me what they’ve done is hurt people when they try to do those things, which has only added to the danger for their return units.”
Virginia Tech will rely on kickoff specialist John Parker Romo to help neutralize Reed. Romo has 42 touchbacks on 55 kickoff attempts (76%) and averaged 64.2 yards per kick. If Romo can’t send it through the back of the end zone then Tech’s coverage units will need to do their job.
Tech’s opposing teams have only averaged 17.7 yards per return this season (No. 15 out of 130 teams).
“Winning with speed down the field is paramount, avoiding with proper leverage is really important, it’s going to take a group effort,” Fuente said. “It’s going to be all 11, the kicker is going to play a role in it too.”
Reed was a three-star recruit on the Rivals.com five-star scale when he committed to UVa in the summer of 2014, which was prior to his junior year in high school.
Mike London was the Virginia head coach at that time and would be replaced by Bronco Mendenhall before Reed arrived on UVa’s grounds.
“I wasn’t quite sure [what to expect] of the fact they didn’t recruit me,” he said of the Mendenhall staff, “but, after all the trips that I made up here, I enjoyed what they were saying and I enjoyed being around them.”
It turned out that his position coach, Marques Hagans, was the lone full-time holdover from the London staff.
“I had no doubt that they were going to turn this thing around when I got here,” Reed said.
He committed so early that Virginia Tech wasn’t involved in his recruiting and he doesn’t have a connection with any Hokies’ players.
“I was born a Virginia fan,” said Reed, the son of a train conductor. “It’s the school I always wanted to go to. I came to camp here starting in like the seventh or eighth grade. I made it known.
“So I didn’t really give other teams time to really recruit me because it was obvious where I wanted to go. Honestly, at home, it was kind of divided early on [between Tech and UVa fans] but I’m started to see a whole lot more UVa fans.”
Of course, he might have something to do with that.
He’ll finish his career among Virginia’s leaders in multiple statistical categories and Reed also is a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award that goes to the most versatile player in major-college football.
It wouldn’t hurt if he got a few carries against the Hokies. He has carried the ball six times this season and 32 for his career.
“If it was presented to me, I would.”
Not that he doesn’t already have enough to do.