Gabe Reid teams with Spencer Nead to give BYU a one-two punch at tight end. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Gabriel Reid loves BYU. So much that he says he would stay here the rest of his life if he could.
The senior tight end (6-4, 250) has had such a great experience in Provo that he can't picture himself anywhere else. But it wasn't always that way for the international relations major.
When Reid was in high school, he wanted to attend college at the University of Hawai`i. In fact, during his senior year at Leone High School in American Samoa, Hawai`i recruited him heavily to go play on its football team.
That same year Reid's older brother, Spencer, who had also been recruited by Hawai`i, was playing his first year as a linebacker at BYU (see related story on at the bottom of this article). Hawai`i recruiters reasoned that since they didn't get Spencer for their team, they should get Gabe.
It should have been an easy choice, but what it came down to was an ultimatum from his father, Eugene: either go to BYU or stay home. Reid took the first option, and in the fall of 1996 joined his brother on the football team at BYU as a walk-on.
"I think, honestly, at the time, they were looking at my potential," Reid said. "They knew that my brother was good, so they were hoping that I would be good, too."
Reid, born and raised in Pago Pago, American Samoa, said he was more of a basketball player growing up (he was an all-star throughout high school), but decided to play football his last year in high school.
"My brother, Spencer, had a huge part in that," Reid, an international business major, said. "I was like his shadow growing up; everything he did I wanted to do. So when he left for BYU my senior year I thought, 'oh, I want to play football.'"
Coming from a family of 13 children, Gabe and Spencer, only 15 months apart, were inseparable growing up. As children their mother would dress them alike and people thought that they were twins. Gabe thinks maybe that has something to do with the fact that Spencer was his childhood hero. Gabe chose his number, 42, because Spencer was number 41 and he wanted to be close to his brother.
Spencer was never very far away. Gabe was on the prep team his first year as a Cougar because he was redshirting, and as a tight end had the opportunity to practice against his linebacker brother.
"I was thinking, 'well, I'm going up against my big brother, he's going to take it easy on me.' But he would just knock me all over the field, he was so strong. But it was fun," Gabe said. "He used to get mad at me sometimes when I used to hold him--during practice he'd be trying to get through the play and I'd hold his jersey, and he'd drag me along but I'd still be holding on."
Spencer graduated from BYU in 1998 and went on to play linebacker for the Carolina Panthers during the 1998 and 2000 seasons, and is now studying sociology at the University of North Carolina-Charleston.
Other than the thrill of practicing against his older brother, Reid faced one of the biggest challenges of his life when he came to play football at BYU.
"I played one year in high school, so I didn't really understand the game that much," Reid said. "In Samoa, the coaches just teach you to run hard; it's all physical, and there's no technique involved. The hardest thing for me was to really learn the game."
He recalls an experience from practice during his first year at BYU when the coach told him to run a corner route for a play. He had no idea what a corner route was, but was afraid to ask the coach, so he ran a streak in one direction while the rest of the team pulled off the play in the opposite direction.
"Even just learning the terminology, it's like learning to walk again," Reid said.
But he had good instructors.
During his first year at BYU, Reid had the opportunity to learn from All-American tight ends Chad Lewis ('96) and Itula Mili ('96). Reid credits Lewis as being the biggest influence on him deciding to do the greatest thing he has ever done in his life: serve a full-time LDS mission. Reid believes that had he not served his two-year mission to Santiago, Chile, he would not be where he is today, playing for BYU with a scholarship and hoping to join the NFL.
Reid has also spent a lot of time learning from former All-Pro tight end Todd Christensen ('78), who comes to BYU in the summer to work out with the team. With Christensen's help, Reid has grown to understand the game of football, everything from the mental aspects to timing on the field.
"I believe I've helped him prepare for Saturdays," Christensen said. "There are a lot of players who practice to look good in practice and in front of the coaches, but it doesn't always work out in the game. What I've been able to impart to him is to how to perform at game speed."
"Sometimes the other players tease me and say that Todd is like my second dad because they always see me with him, but he's here to help me out, and I'm going to learn from him," Reid said.
Reid enjoys his teammates and coaches, but his favorite part of BYU football is playing in LaVell Edwards Stadium. He remembers watching his brother Spencer play in a game during his freshman year and dreaming of the day when he could score a touchdown in Edwards Stadium.
"You make a touchdown there and you feel like you're walking on air," Reid said. "The crowd goes wild, and everything--it's just crazy."
The moment Reid had dreamed of came several years later, as he caught a pass from quarterback Brandon Doman to score his first-ever touchdown in the first game of the 2001-02 season against Tulane.
"I almost got a penalty for dancing because I was so happy," Reid said. "I didn't know what came over me, and I just started moving around. The ref came over and said he was going to throw a flag." Fortunately for Reid and the Cougars, he didn't.
Reid's first touchdown in Edwards Stadium was made even more memorable because his father was in the stadium watching the game. He reportedly stood up and started jumping up and down on the bleachers, a rare behavior for the elder Samoan. His mother and other family members were watching the game from Samoa on television, where his mom "almost jumped right through the roof because she was so happy" when she saw her son score his first touchdown.
Reid's family has always been his biggest support, and he recognizes his parents as being his biggest role models throughout his life.
Reid's father, Eugene, supports his sons (two others are playing at Snow College and Utah State this year) by flying to Utah from Samoa every season to watch them play football. Not only does he show up at least two hours early for every game, he attends every practice. Before even the trainers get out on the field, Eugene is already there, standing under the trees with his shades on, just watching.
"He honestly thinks that we are the greatest. He's always been my biggest fan. Always," Reid said. "Even here, we come up to warm up for pre-game, and he's already sitting in the stands. I kind of look up in the stands--if he's here, I know where he's at."
Unfortunately, the elder Reid only got to see his son play in two games in Edwards Stadium last season before returning to Samoa. During practice after the Tulane game, Gabe landed on a sprinkler head while diving for a ball and blew out his knee, and was forced to sit out the next two games. He came back to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Sand Diego State, although he didn't feel back to 100 percent until the Colorado State game, where he scored another touchdown on a 29-yard pass from Doman. He ended the season with five receptions for 79 yards and three touchdowns.
Looking forward to the 2002-03 season, Reid just wants to stay healthy and play to his potential, to really show the talent he has acquired as a football player. He feels that his injury held him back from really playing to his full potential last season.
"I don't think he's had a chance yet, as an underclassman, to really be the guy, you know, the main guy," said BYU tight end coach Mike Empey. "He's accomplished a lot in the role that he's had, but I look forward to him doing really big things. He's just the kind of kid that's going to work hard and play his best either way."
Working hard is only part of Gabe Reid's formula for success. Throughout his life, his parents have taught him that if he works hard, does what's right, and puts the Lord first, everything else will fall into place.
To go along with his hard work and diligence, Reid has a somewhat unusual pre-game ritual to prepare himself for games. Unusual for most college football players, anyway: he reads his scriptures. Reid usually reads in the hotel or on the bus, then when the team arrives at the stadium he walks around the field or sits and thinks about the game and his assignments.
"For some reason I think I play a lot better when I am calm and relaxed," he said. "I don't listen to hard rock or bang my head against the locker or anything, to get all pumped up. I tell you what, though, once you run out in that stadium, you can't help but get all pumped up. You're just going nuts."
This year, Reid looks forward especially to the Hawai`i and Utah games. The Utah game brings out the deep-seeded rivalry between the Cougars and the Utes, but the Hawai`i game is more of a Polynesian pride issue. He is anxious to play against the large number of fellow Polynesians on the Hawai`i team, especially since last year the Cougars lost to the Warriors 45-72 in Honolulu. He wants to "get them back"
"As long as I play to the fullest of my potential and I know I have tried everything to do what is right, and I've worked really hard, and I've played my best, then I know that whatever happens after that will be for the best," Reid said.
Part of what Reid hopes to happen after it all is to sign a contract with the NFL. He says he would love to play for a west coast team, just to be closer to his family, but he would be happy anywhere. He just wants to make some money to be able to help out his parents and support his own growing family. Reid and his wife, the former Heather Sasse, were blessed with their first daughter, Irelynn Milovale, in June of this year.
"One of the biggest things he has going for him is he continues to work hard," said Spencer Reid. "It's not something you pick up, it's something you work for, and it's going to take him a long way."
All in the Family
Coming from a family of 13 children with a big football tradition, it's no wonder that both Gabe and Spencer Reid ended up playing football at BYU. Actually, they didn't really have a choice when their BYU enthusiast father told them to play for BYU or stay home, but the Samoan brothers have both enjoyed their experiences as Cougars.
Gabe joined the team during Spencer's sophomore year, and stayed one year before taking two years off to serve an LDS Church mission to Chile. Meanwhile, Spencer made a name for himself as a linebacker and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 1998.
"It was a little hard coming to BYU because people didn't know me by name, they knew me as Spencer's little brother," Gabe said. "But it's fine; if you're going to be in the shadow of someone it might as well be your brother."
Now a senior on the team, Gabe is coming out of the shadows and making an impression of his own as a tight end. Spencer is currently in graduate school in North Carolina, studying sociology.
This year's team includes 13 other players who had brothers play BYU football before and/or with them.
Sophomore wide receiver David Christensen of Fresno, Calif., succeeds both his father, Stephen, and his brother, Steve, on the BYU football team. Steve was a quick running back, and graduated from BYU law school in (year). Another brother, McKay, also signed with LaVell Edwards to play football at BYU, but opted for baseball instead after being selected as a first-round draft pick by the California Angels. McKay is currently an outfielder with the New York Mets organization.
Senior wide receiver Justin Anderson of Orem, Utah, was preceded by his brother Tyler, who played wide receiver between 1988 and 1993. Tyler was a real speedster, giving his younger brother big shoes to fill in his place. Tyler is now the head football coach at Tooele High School.
Defensive lineman John Denney also comes in rapid succession of his brother, Ryan, who graduated last year after a stellar season that earned him All-MWC and North MVP Senior Bowl 2002 honors as a defensive end. Denney's father, Craig, also played at BYU, from 1971 to 1973. John is looking forward to some action this year after redshirting the 2001-02 season, while Ryan is starting his career with the Buffalo Bills as a second round draft pick.
Outside linebacker Isaac Herring's brother, Eli, was an All-WAC performer for BYU, drafted in 1995 by the Los Angeles Raiders in the sixth round. However, due to his strong religious principles, the 6-7, 330-pounder shocked the NFL by turning down a multi-million dollar deal to play professional football because he didn't want to play on Sunday.
"One of the Ten Commandments is to keep the Sabbath Day holy," Eli said. "I don't think playing football falls into that category. For me, personally, it just wouldn't be right."
Eli's father, David, cited a saying he felt was applicable: "Our great grandfathers called it the Holy Sabbath day. Our grandfathers called it the Sabbath day. Our fathers called it Sunday. And we call it the weekend." David was proud of his son for standing up for his values.
Eli now lives his other dream, teaching math and coaching football at Mountain View High School in Orem.
Others with brothers previously on the team include OL twins Paul and Scott Fisher, DL Ifo Pili, WR Andrew Ord, DL Daniel Marquardt, WR Brett Cooper and RB Jared Harper.
The story of the older brothers at BYU is already said and done, but for the younger generation, only time will tell as they strive to live up to and exceed the excellent reputation their brothers have left behind.
BYU Brother Connection
Current Player BYU Brother
Justin Anderson Tyler
Gabe Reid Spencer
David Christensen Steve
Brett Cooper Jason
John Denney Ryan
Paul Fisher Scott
Scott Fisher Paul
Jared Harper Matt
Isaac Herring Eli
Jason Kukahiko Tyler
Tyler Kukahiko Jason
Bryan Kehl Ed
Daniel Marquardt Michael
Andrew Ord Jonathan
Ifo Pili Falemoa, Jr.