TUSTIN — Jason Reynolds remembers that day--the one nearly nine years ago--as if it was happening now.
His mother, frustrated and concerned, told him to pack and go home with his father. Reynolds, then 8, hardly sniffled. He just did as he was told.
Riding in the car, Reynolds wondered what he was in for. His father, a man he had seen on vacations and weekends since his parents had divorced, was a no-nonsense ex-Marine who still lived by the Corps code.
Life was about to change drastically.
"I was a crazy little boy," said Reynolds, now a junior at Tustin High. "I kept getting into stuff, nothing really bad, but nothing really good. My mom felt I needed a strong male role model."
Reynolds looks on that day as a defining moment.
Everything he has become--a standout football player and a student with a 3.1 grade-point average--he credits to his father, Art Reynolds.
Everything he hopes to become--a better football player and student--he knows will only come by following the path already laid down by his dad.
A strong male role model? Jason Reynolds found out that day just how strong.
"We got home, and he told me the way it was going to be," Reynolds said. "And that's the way it has been."
There's no missing Reynolds on the football field. He's a 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback/defensive back who enjoys physical contact and is generally the guy still standing.
"You look at our team, and Jason is the one that glares out at you," Coach Marijon Ancich said. "I remember watching him run through half the Corona del Mar team for a touchdown as a freshman."
His size makes him stand out and his ability makes him excel.
It was Reynolds, a running back in 1991, who scored the Tillers' two touchdowns in a 14-6 victory over University in the semifinals of the Southern Section Division VI playoffs last season. He also scored their only touchdown in the 27-7 loss to Valencia in the title game.
But ability only goes so far.
This season, his first as a varsity quarterback, Reynolds has struggled. He has completed only 14 of 45 passes for 177 yards. Learning the intricacies of the position has been tough.
"Jason has always been the biggest kid, so ability has always been enough," Art Reynolds said. "He's getting to the point where the other kids have the same skills and the same strengths. Jason has to learn to compete. When he does, he'll be something to reckon with."
Art Reynolds, who is a campus supervisor and assistant football coach at Tustin, knows whereof he speaks. He learned to compete.
Although he's only 5-5, Reynolds was a standout running back at Central High School in Omaha, Neb. He led his team to a state championship as a senior in 1958 and was named all-state.
Reynolds played one year at the University of Omaha, then joined the Marines. He continued playing football.
"I remember being pregnant, running down the sideline, as Art scored a touchdown to win the game," said his ex-wife, Bettie Reynolds. "Football meant a lot to him. He was a gifted athlete."
Reynolds spent 20 years in the Marines, where he met his wife and began a family.
They had met at church in San Diego, where Reynolds was stationed, and were married in 1964. They have three children.
Jason, the youngest, is his only son.
"When he was born, I just knew he was special," Reynolds said. "I guess I was like all fathers."
Reynolds tried to be, despite being apart from his family.
The Reynolds were divorced in 1979, when Jason was 2. Art Reynolds moved to Riverside, and Bettie stayed in Lemon Grove near San Diego.
Art visited often, spending as much time as he could with his children.
"You either want your kids or you don't," Reynolds said. "I wanted mine."
So did Bettie, but she found Jason more and more difficult to handle.
She worked as a computer technician at one hospital and an instrument sterilization technician at another. With two jobs, she was rarely there when Jason got home from school.
Given free rein, he acted like many children would. He came home late, and his school work suffered.
Once, he came home with a broken arm; his mother never got the full story. Reynolds was never in serious trouble, but Bettie thought it was only a matter of time.
"Jason was very, very, very active," she said. "He needed more supervision than I could give him. It was a tough decision, and I made the stipulation that he had to keep up his grades. He comes home to visit now, and I cry. There's a part of his life I've missed out on."
Reynolds, then in the third grade, moved in with his father.
Art Reynolds knew how to be a single parent. His mother had raised him.
"When Jason first moved in, he couldn't go to sleep without the TV and lights being left on," Reynolds said. "He couldn't be left alone for a long time. I stayed home with him to make him feel comfortable."
There were rules and regulations to live by. Jason had to be home right after school and couldn't go out to play until his homework was done.