SALT LAKE CITY — Memo to NFL:
This is just a friendly reminder that Trevor Reilly is still waiting for your call. Maybe you’ve lost his number or forgotten about him, but a year ago he was playing special teams and linebacker for the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots in his fourth year in the league; now he’s a graduate assistant coach at the University of Utah and part-time scout-team player — no, really — who’s still hoping for a phone call from an NFL team.
He’s still training daily, and twice a week he joins the Ute practices. On Tuesday, he not only coached the offensive line, he put on pads and mixed it up with Utah’s starting offense, a 30-year-old man among kids. He plays inside and outside linebacker, defensive end, even safety.
He began padding up a month into the season when the injuries thinned out the team and players were moved from defense to offense. “I thought it would be a lot easier if I could just practice,” he says. With the blessing of head coach Kyle Whittingham, Reilly explored the idea with the school’s NCAA compliance officer, who determined that the rules allowed him to participate as long as he was enrolled in school and hadn’t graduated (Reilly is one class short of his degree). There was some precedence at Utah — former Ute and NFL veteran running back Quinton Ganther did the same thing.
“I give them a pretty good look,” Reilly says of his scout-team play. “It adds an extra guy if we have injuries.”
He doesn’t go 100 percent, nor does he do any more than wrap up ball carriers (the Utes don’t take players to the ground in practice). “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he says. “I’m just out there to give them a good look. If I’m out there blowing up guys or someone gets hurt, that would be terrible.”
He would still be in the NFL if pro football weren’t a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Reilly, who played in 37 games during his four years in the NFL, seemed en route to a long career of supporting roles until a few twists of fate intervened. After a four-year career at Utah, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound linebacker was drafted in the seventh round by the New York Jets in 2014. He played in 29 games his first two years in the league, and only a loss in the last game of the 2015 regular season prevented the team from advancing to the playoffs.
He pulled a hamstring in the 2016 training camp and just like that he was deemed dispensable, even if he had been the team’s Special Teams MVP the previous season. He was released by the Jets and signed to the Patriots’ practice squad, only to be signed to the Miami Dolphins' active roster. He played in the Dolphins' final two games, including a playoff loss to the Patriots.
In 2017, the Dolphins demoted him to the practice squad and in October released him. The Patriots re-signed him to their practice squad. When former BYU star Harvey Langi was hurt in an automobile accident, the Patriots replaced him with Reilly on the active squad. He played in six games, on special teams and defense, and was a starting linebacker in certain alignments.
Just like that he found himself working with the premier football team in the country, working alongside, in his words, "The greatest coach (Bill Belichick) and quarterback (Tom Brady) of all time."
He went up against Brady on defense. "He wanted us to give him a great look," says Reilly. "Some quarterbacks don't like when you pick off their passes in practice; he encouraged it."
He marveled at Belichick's attention to detail and his involvement in every aspect of the game plan. In one practice, he personally choreographed every step he wanted Reilly to take on a certain blitz. "It really is a game of inches for him," says Reilly. "He wanted it done exactly this way. He would physically walk me through it — step here, then go vertical here, then step here. At first I thought, why all this attention for a blitz we'll probably only use a couple of times in the game, but then in the game it resulted in a sack and fumble exactly how he had envisioned it."
Unfortunately for Reilly, his stay with the Patriots was short-lived. In late December the Steelers cut 39-year-old veteran James Harrison, and the Patriots signed him, cutting Reilly to clear space on the roster. Reilly wound up finishing the season on the practice squad and went to the Super Bowl as an inactive player.
In the offseason he became a free agent, and no team invited him to training camp.
“That was that, man,” says Reilly. “It’s a cold business. I’m 30 years old, I’m not exactly high priority.”
He has some mileage on his body, as you might expect — a couple of knee surgeries in college, a couple of concussions in the NFL (though he missed only two games because of injury). The NFL’s minimum salary for a four-year vet is about $700,000, which also makes it more difficult for him to find a team.
“They can sign an undrafted free agent for half that even if I’m a little better (player),” he says.3 comments on this story
He trained in August thinking he might get a call and then decided to finish his degree at Utah. Ute assistant coach Fred Whittingham suggested he sign on as a GA with the Utes. Reilly has settled in Lehi with his wife and three children and, much to his own surprise, he is considering a career in coaching after getting a taste of it as a GA.
But he’s still hoping an NFL team will call. “You never know,” he says. Derek Anderson recently moved from the unemployment line to the starting quarterback job in Buffalo at the age of 35. Former Utah player Zane Beadles was signed by the Falcons last week at the age of 31.
“I got my (NFL) pension,” Reilly says. “I’d like to play another couple of years, but if it doesn’t happen, that’s life. I’ll move on.”