USF’s Greg Reaves Goes From A Military Lifestyle To College Football

Discipline was drilled into Reaves in Colorado Springs


Colorado Springs is a long away from Bradenton. For Greg Reaves there were times when it seemed much further than the roughly 1,500 miles it would add to a frequent flier program.

The town, about an hour’s drive south of Denver, is home to the United States Air Force Academy and the academy’s prep school. The latter is where Reaves attended following a standout career at Manatee High School, where he graduated in 2014.

“It was very strict with a lot of early mornings,” recalled the USF defensive end. “Taking down and folding the (U.S.) flag and taking it back out at 4:30 in the morning and raising it up the flag pole. Snow, sleet or rain I had to go out there and (raise it). It was really different than what I was used to. It was a lot stricter. They controlled what you ate, when you ate, what you did on the weekend and how you did it.”

While the dark wintry mornings and discipline were anything but fun, Reaves said the experience taught him a lot of things and proved beneficial to his growth as a young man. Still, the military lifestyle was not one he wanted to pursue and after one season he decided to return to the bay area.

Reaves attended USF as a preferred walk-on and spent the 2015 season with the scout team. A linebacker at the time, he was named the scout team’s top defender and earned playing time in 2016 when he got into eight games on special teams and recorded seven tackles.

“It was definitely a blessing to come back home and play for the hometown school,” he said. “(USF) is only about an hour away from home. My parents can always come up to visit and watch me, which is very nice. It is a blessing having them come to every game. It is a lot different than being in Colorado Springs.”

Reaves could have been on the move again. There was some uncertainty as to how the rest of his college career would play out after then-head coach Willie Taggart took the same position at Oregon following the 2016 season. Reaves ultimately decided to remain at USF and play for Charlie Strong.

Among those who joined Strong at USF was defensive ends coach Damon Cogdell. During spring drills last year the former West Virginia linebacker noticed a player who seemed to be going non-stop.

“I kept watching this kid and I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’” recalled Cogdell, who as head coach at Miramar High went up against Reaves and Manatee in a nationally televised game in 2012. “One thing that really stood out was his motor. His technique wasn’t where it needed to be, but his effort was.”

That motor has continued to hum nicely and efficiently. Not only did the 6-foot-2 and 248-pound Reaves go from deep down the depth chart to No. 1 at rush end, but he was awarded a scholarship during last year’s fall camp. Academic accolades have been well earned as well.

“To go from being a walk-on and being awarded a scholarship was a blessing,” said Reaves, who was a member of the American Athletic Conference’s all-academic team for 2017-18, received his undergraduate degree (Management) earlier this summer and is now a graduate student. “The day they awarded me a scholarship was really nice because it took the burden off my parents. It was really a blessing. Coach Strong and coach Cogdell gave me an opportunity to get reps with the first team and I took advantage of it. I played really well.”

Did he ever. Reaves, who made his first-career start in last season’s opener at San Jose State, recorded 14 tackles for loss to lead a unit that placed fifth nationally with 8.4 TFLs per game. He added four sacks and three pass breakups and heads into this season as one of the conference’s top players.

“I just want to build off what I did last season and continue to get better,” he said. “The main goal, the number one goal each and every day, is to practice really hard and help us win the conference. I push the guys around me because they make me better.”

Reaves, who sat out the spring with a shoulder injury, said he is not the vocal type. However, through the first couple of weeks of fall camp Cogdell has noticed that Reaves has not shied away from opening up.

“He wasn’t a vocal guy last year because his actions spoke for him,” said Cogdell, who likens Reaves’ size, versatility and disruptive presence to that of former WVU teammate and NFLer Gary Stills. “This year he is more of a vocal guy. He walks with more confidence and plays with more confidence.”

Reaves credits former Bulls linemen Deadrin Senat, Bruce Hector and Mike Love as having helped him grow as a player. Even with that trio having departed the line will still feature familiar faces in the persons of senior Kevin Bronson and junior Kirk Livingston, among others. So far Reaves likes what he sees.

“Things are going really well and a lot of guys are stepping up, especially the seniors,” he said in noting the play of Vincent Jackson and Juwuan Brown. “It’s all about meshing together and figuring out what is best for the team. We are working hard and working well together.” Working hard and working well on and off the field sums up Reaves’ experience at USF.

“My whole time here has been a blessing,” he said.

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Tom Layberger has been a sports writer, reporter and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Comcast, NBC and The Topps Company. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and globalsportmatters.com. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a USF grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.