ANAHEIM — Servite Coach Larry Toner remembered last season's first game and Vince Reed getting hammered by an Esperanza player on Reed's long fourth-quarter kickoff return.
Then, Toner remembered seeing Reed on the sideline being examined by a team doctor. The coach could tell Reed was hurt as Reed jogged back onto the field.
"Is he OK?" Toner asked the doctor. "He's fine if he thinks he's fine," came the response.
And Reed was fine. His four-yard touchdown run with 49 seconds remaining gave then-fourth-ranked Servite a 24-20 victory over third-ranked Esperanza.
Toner called it one of Reed's defining moments.
"He's a great kid with great character and great resolve," Toner said. "We knew he had taken a heck of a hit, and he carried the mail [on the last drive] until he got the job done."
Reed, a senior running back, is back again and so are Servite and Esperanza for another opening week showdown. Servite is ranked fifth and Esperanza eighth in The Times Orange County preseason poll. They play tonight at 7 at Cal State Fullerton.
Reed had only 49 yards in last year's game--most on the last drive. He fumbled twice and had an ice bag on his hand afterward, but won out in the end. Servite reached the Southern Section semifinals before losing to Newport Harbor. Still, it was hardly the season Reed dreamed about. He separated his shoulder in the first quarter against Mater Dei and it ultimately led to his missing most of five games.
Which leads to the other defining moment in Reed's high school football career, two weeks after the shoulder injury, against Tustin. Reed returned to the lineup in a 50-40 victory. Toner challenged him to rise to the occasion of facing three of the county's top runners, Tustin's DeShaun Foster, Brandon Lambert and Greg Carnal. Reed responded with 21 carries for a game-high 133 yards and a touchdown.
"The Tustin game was indicative of what he could do," Toner said. "They were a big, physical team, power football. They were setting their gun sights for him and slamming up there to see who's better, and he was real responsive. I was very proud of him. He didn't shy away a lick.
"A lot of that was right on Vince's shoulders. [Quarterback Greg] Cicero had a good game, but if that ground game was absent, it wouldn't be enough."
Cicero passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns. With Cicero now at Texas, Servite's ground game is even more important.
And that means Reed--elusive, powerful, with above-average speed.
Colleges have noticed.
"Everyday I've got a letter for him," Toner said. "Besides his character, I think they like his flexibility. He can play running back, receiver, defensive back. . . . I think they're pretty well sold on the fact that he's a player."
Reed (6-0, 185 pounds) will get spot playing time in the secondary when Servite needs the help. He will get snaps at receiver because the running back is a receiving position in the Friar offense.
But most of Reed's action will be carrying the ball. He rushed 135 times last season for 701 yards, a 5.2 average.
"I'm much more mentally strong this year," said Reed, a four-year varsity player. "I'm looking at each team equally. You play a team like Mater Dei, you might look at them differently than Santa Ana. I feel that's going to help my production. We have a great offensive line, so I plan on having a big year rushing the ball as well as catching it.
"Last year was one to forget."
Reed received recruiting letters from many major universities, including UCLA, USC, Michigan and Colorado. Nebraska, Arizona and California have recruited him as a cornerback. Oregon State already has offered a scholarship.
"I would like to study law, and perhaps apply that toward sports," Reed said.
When Toner talks about Reed, the word "character" keeps popping up.
"His sense of duty and responsibility, sensitivity to others, his ability to work," Toner rattles off, describing what sets Reed apart. "Working is not necessarily the thing that comes first and foremost if you're gifted like that, but he's willing to work and take the criticism that comes with it. He has a very good sense of respect for his parents and adults here at school, and a good perspective on relative worth of the athlete vs. the person."
Reed credits his father, Mark.
"I love football and whatever I do in life, I would like to come back and help other people because there have been so many people who have helped me," Reed said.
"My dad has been the inspiration of my life. Since I was 7, he coached me through Pop Warner and I learned most of my football through him. And not just football, but how to be a man."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
ESPERANZA VS. SERVITE
When: 7 tonight.
Where: Cal State Fullerton.
Records: Season opener
Preseason rankings: Servite No. 5; Esperanza No. 8.
Noteworthy: Ryan Garko may be making his first start at quarterback for Servite, but he does have experience against Esperanza. The Aztec defense knocked Greg Cicero, the Friars' all-county quarterback, out of last year's game and Garko played in the second half of Servite's 24-20 victory.