In the fall of 1869, (College of New Jersey) Princeton University was present for the inception of American football when they faced Rutgers in the first organized football game ever played. In the nascent years of college football, Princeton's gridiron success matched their current academic prowess as they claimed 22 of the first 40 national titles. They had no way of knowing just how much the sport would evolve over the next century. As the sport embraced murkier elements though, the Ivys bowed out of college football's arms race by prohibiting football scholarships and the flow of Ivy League players into pro football leagues slowed to a trickle. Princeton’s glory years as a college football superpower are kaput; but every so often, a prospect comes along that cracks the window open to a more auspicious past for Ivy League college football.
As the draft rolls, Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid will be one of a slew of small-school prospects whose names will be in bright lights for a brief moment in the Big Apple when his name is called at the NFL’s draft pulpit during Friday night or early Saturday.
Despite his prodigious 6-2, 301 pound mass, Reid has always been vastly disadvantaged when it came to becoming an NFL prospect. For one, Reid is a fifth-year senior from an Ivy League football program. If FBS’ stars are the equivalent to Hollywood’s celebrity culture, FCS is the Indie film festival and the Ivy League is a PBS mini-series cast. The traditional route for matriculating into the NFL diverts around Ivy League schools because of their stance on scholarships.
The Ivy League is in the midst of a pro football renaissance following a six year spell that resulted in just three draftees. Last season, three were chosen, including Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Mike Catapano, a Princeton teammate of Reid’s. Catapano was swept up in the seventh round's "last call" flurry, but Reid is a projected as high as the third round where he'd be just the third Ivy athlete selected before the sixth round in 10 years.
Another strike against Reid’s odds of landing a futue NFL contract were the Bronx origins in his marrow. The Bronx is a borough recognized for its weathered blacktops and rims than for its lush football fields; long gone are the days when powerhouses such as Kennedy, Clinton and Mount Saint Michael frequented the papers and were major destinations for college scouts. Quality coaching is equally difficult to find in the region and while he was academically astute, Reid admitted that he was behind in his understanding of the nuances of football.
“I knew A-gap, B-gap,” Reid told the New York Times. “I knew the basics, but in terms of technique coaching at my high school, we didn’t do much of that. It was, ‘O.K., quarterback goes back, you sack the quarterback.’ ”
His mother, Claudette is a minister and his father Bishop Courton, has attended City of Faith, Church of God for 29 years. Both were also weary of allowing him to play football until his freshman year of high school after a shooting in the stands of a game reinforced their fears.
Reid was recruited heavily by Marshall, but most D-I programs didn’t express much interest beyond the generic recruitment letters. Reid whittled his choice down to Harvard and Princeton before ultimately choosing the Tigers.
As the product of a white collar university rolling up his sleeves to play a position that iconic ABC college football voice Keith Jackson once nicknamed “Big Uglies” as a term of endearment for guys who brutally club each other for positioning, leaves NFL execs inquiring into how deep his passion for the game runs.
"It's a given," Reid said. "It's not really a weakness of mine – I'm smart. They just wonder why someone who can do things would want to play football. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little boy. There's nothing else that I've worked for."
In a sport where soft-spoken religious men can transform into ravenous hunters in helmets, who detonate explosive shots that would cause regular human beings to regurgitate their last meal, the questions still persist because this will be the first time football takes a majority of his focus.
“If I weren’t really into football, do you think I would have left school for a semester if I weren’t into football?!” Reid bellowed.
Off the field, Reid doesn’t fit the rigid expectations imposed upon a brolic 6-2, 301 pounder. Reid’s strength, length and violent arms are his weapons of mass offensive destruction in the trenches; but off the field, Reid’s smooth mellifluous voice is his trademark quality. Reid dabbles in guitar and piano, but he’s adamant that vocal cords are the strings of his most refined instrument.
Before joining Princeton’s all-male a cappella group Old NasSoul in his sophomore year, Reid honed his smooth vocals in the church choir on Sundays as a child. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock that Reid emulates “The Minister of Defense” Reggie White.
Reid was bestowed his first of many honors when he was named the Harland "Pink" Baker '22 Award recipient as Princeton’s top freshman defensive player, and began revving up for a monstrous sophomore campaign. But that would have to wait.
A torn pectoral muscle halted Reid’s sophomore season at its outset against Lehigh during the first game of the season.
Cramming isn’t necessarily the best study practice for a serious Princeton student-athlete, but Reid rehabbed relentlessly and submitted a redshirt sophomore season that crammed two years of production into one. Reid led all Ivy League linemen with 68 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks in a demonstrative display of trench combat.
“I thought I wasn’t going to be as effective because of the lack of strength [coming off the pec tear],” Reid told The Shadow League. That season I had one of the best seasons of any defensive lineman in Princeton history. That was a very defining moment.”
Prior to his senior season, Reid weighed the option of going pro, but instead spurned the NFL to raise his draft profile and spend the summer at Chuck Smith’s Passing Academy. Princeton went 8-1 on their way to an Ivy League title while Reid became a finalist for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and was named an All-American for the second time.
Reid’s interior backfield penetration was a recurring nightmare for quarterbacks who were sacked 20 times during Reid’s final three seasons and makes him an ideal fit for a 4-3 scheme as a one-gap, slant nose interior lineman.
“I moved around a lot. Teams can look at me in multiple schemes as a result. For an aggressive 3-4 scheme, I can be considered a 5-technique [defensive end],” Reid opined. “In a four-man front, I can be a 1- or 3-technique [defensive tackle], because I played all those positions during my time at Princeton.”
It was at the Senior Bowl where Reid arrived on the scene like a monster truck and started knocking around the professional interns in student-athlete disguises from brand name powerhouse football factories. Reid generated a pair of back-to-back sacks by utilizing his quickness with an inside move against hulking Baylor's 6-5, 340 pound All-American guard Cyril Richardson, then shifted over to Miami's Brandon Linder. Book smarts are part of the Princeton package, but his football IQ has grown leaps and bounds since his primitive high school football years and the breakdown of Linder was an example of how his disciplined study habits have factored into that mental growth.
After studying film of Linder’s tendencies, Reid used a counter move to get Linder off-balance and the buzz around his stock exploded like a supernova.
“I beat him every time at inside-move counters,” Reid said. “I’d looked at his tape, and I just knew.”
Asked D coach for a sleeper: #Princeton DT Caraun Reid. “People say lack of competition. But in @seniorbowl, he was kicking everyone’s ass.”
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 24, 2014
After weeks of being watched by scouts, Reid will decompress by watching the draft with a few teammates and family. Sometime over the next three days, Reid will have his first moment in the sun when one franchise gives him his NFL opportunity. The NFL Draft will be the genesis of his pro football career. However, the Ivy League product has never forgotten the genesis of his evolution into an NFL draftee.
Nearly seven years ago, Reid’s three sacks were pivotal to Mount St. Michael crashing St. Anthony’s 64-game, seven-year winning streak.
“I was elected one of the captains for that game, pretty much for the work I did in the offseason.” It was probably the first time I ever dominated a game [in varsity] and felt what dominance felt like. And then from there, it was really the moment I felt like I’m not just good for my team, but I could be a lot better if I just keep working at it.”
After months of training for the NFL Draft, Reid will most likely be reporting for his new vocation in an unfamiliar location soon. While appreciative of the opportunity Princeton provided Reid, his post-Ivy League future features a lighter academic workload. While the scouts are whispering Reid's praises, it's not time to anoint him yet as the work is only just beginning.
But Caraun is ready.