PROVO As BYU wide receiver Mike Reed led a team meeting Tuesday, coach Bronco Mendenhall marveled.
Reed is a minority in more ways than one he's a black, non-LDS athlete on a predominantly white, LDS campus. Of the 105 players on the Cougars' fall camp roster, 75 have served LDS church missions. Yet he stood confidently in front of his teammates and the coaching staff prior to practice, sharing his religious beliefs and how those beliefs fit in with the mission of BYU football.
"He didn't bat an eye to take his chance and demonstrate what he believes and how that integrates into our team," Mendenhall said. "He conducted the entire meeting. He had a great message for our team.
"It might be even more admirable for a young man like that, without all the support and structure, to still be faithful and true to what he believes. He knows who he is and just keeps making good decisions. There's a lot to admire about that."
Four years ago, however, not long after arriving in Provo as a freshman from Baytown, Texas, Reed was close to transferring.
Mendenhall remembers Reed walking out of then-head coach Gary Crowton's office, frustrated and ready to go home. Heaven knows there were plenty of reasons for him to leave. He was in a strange place, far from home, and several of the other freshmen from that 2004 recruiting class had been dismissed from school for their off-field conduct.
But Reed decided to persevere amid difficult circumstances, and it has paid dividends not just for BYU, but also for Reed himself.
Mendenhall has been impressed with Reed's diligence, leadership and maturity over the past few years.
"There are a lot of things that would make it difficult for Mike, and yet he's turned those things into things he can handle," he said. "He has used them to help him grow. I think he'll leave BYU more prepared for life maybe than he could have been elsewhere because he's embraced the challenges that come from being here."
With his senior season rapidly approaching BYU entertains Northern Iowa on Saturday Reed is grateful for the opportunity to play for the Cougars. "I've enjoyed my experience here. There's been some good and there's been some bad," said the soft-spoken Reed, who has caught 87 passes for 1,060 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. "After all the hardships and all that, I can say it's been a success. In my senior year, I'm looking to go out with a bang. Of course, the whole team is. We're looking to capture another Mountain West (championship)."
Reed admits there were times when he thought about transferring.
"But with the will of God, and my family, I sat down and thought things over," he said. "I talked to my family and friends and they were telling me, 'Michael, you don't quit. Transferring is like quitting on your teammates.' I thought about that and I stuck it out. I feel like I've benefited the best from staying out here and showing that I can overcome any obstacle. My time here's been good."
In the Cougar offense, junior receiver Austin Collie receives most of the attention, both on and off the field. That's fine with Reed.
"I've always been the underdog," he said. "I like it when other teams focus their attention on somebody else because they'll lose focus on me and I'll come to bite them at the end. They can overlook me all they want to. I'll just come out and prove them wrong."
Reed, Collie said, is a key part of the offense.
"Mike has gotten a lot more aggressive, coming to the ball and going to the ball," Collie said. "It's going to help him this year. He's a great athlete and a great receiver. He and I are a great combo. I help him and he helps me."
Collie was sidelined during fall camp with a stress fracture, and Reed quietly went about his business, consistently catching passes and serving as an example to younger teammates.
"There might be other players who receive more attention, but when you look at the championships we have won and the role Mike has played, you have to look strongly at him, being in the nucleus of what's happened," Mendenhall said. "Mike's consistency has been remarkable."
Because of his beliefs and his experiences, Reed is looking to help others, including freshman wide receiver O'Neill Chambers, who is also black and non-LDS. He and linebacker Terrance Hooks volunteered to be a mentor to Chambers and assist him in the process of becoming acclimated to BYU. Reed, after all, knows what it's like to jump into an LDS environment.
"At first, when I came here, it was kind of weird because I'm not LDS," he said. "It doesn't bug me. I go to church every Sunday to Pastor Scott's church. The people out here haven't treated me no differently because I'm not LDS. I like that. They're not judgmental about me and I'm not judgmental about other people. It's worked out."
What has Reed enjoyed most about his BYU experience?
"Just the surroundings," he said. "The people out here are first-class. The fans, the church members, everybody in general. The living environment out here in Provo is great. The people are great to be around. There was one day when I was a young kid here and I called my house and said, 'Man, everybody here is just so happy every day.' That's a good thing to see people happy because they bring happiness to you. I've enjoyed everything."
Mendenhall can appreciate how difficult it can be for players like Reed to adapt to BYU.
"I really think hard when I bring a young man to BYU who is not a member of the church, that isn't of this culture and isn't of this faith and isn't familiar with BYU," he said."When you consider Mike Reed, none of those things were in place. Yet he had strong Christian values and a good work ethic and was very good person. When you consider those first days to now, running the team meeting and looking to be the mentor for another player because he cares so much about this program, that's a gratifying thing. That weighs much more on my mind than what happens on Saturdays."
BYU vs. Northern Iowa
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: The mtn.
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