UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ever since he was a little kid, Penn State cornerback John Reid always needed to know why things worked and how he could make them better.
If it was Reid's video-game controllers or remotes, he would take them apart and search YouTube for videos on how to make them more efficient. In high school, when Reid's computer was too slow and glitchy, impacting his ability to play World of Warcraft, his father offered a solution that his tech-savvy son ran with.
"Let's try and build a computer," John's father recalled. "Why not?"
In the next two years Little John as his father, John, calls him, did all the research. Father and son both liked electronics, but neither knew exactly what they were getting into. Little John scoured the Internet to figure out what parts were compatible, what worked best and how to put it together. The morning after Christmas father, son and John's uncle Billy spent three hours building the tower.
The computer was a success and also a conversation piece when John, a highly touted cornerback who plans to study engineering, moved into college in late June.
"I'd never seen anything like that," said sophomore cornerback Grant Haley, Reid's roommate for camp. "He takes it with him everywhere he goes, so that was pretty cool."
In many ways, Reid's reputation as a quiet kid whose work ethic and dedication to football impressed teammates and coaches well before this former Philadelphia St. Joseph's Prep prospect stepped foot on campus. After three games, two of which Reid started in place of the injured Haley, Reid hasn't played like a freshman. Saturday against Rutgers, Haley returned as the starter, but Reid came in to record his first interception and his first fumble recovery. Penn State coaches named Reid the defense's player of the week.
"He's just kind of a unique, different guy," coach James Franklin said.
Reid's early success at Penn State doesn't come as a surprise to teammates and coaches. His approach to football helps to set him apart. Much like figuring out the pieces to his electronics, all the little details discovered in practice and film study add up to help Reid piece together his focused and serious approach to playing cornerback.
Teammates heard the story about how Reid spent a summer visit for the annual Lasch Bash BBQ inside watching film of Arizona Cardinals defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu with defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Reid happily ducked inside and away from the meet and greet with other highly touted prospects, another chance for him dissect successful players and figure out what parts of their game he could add to his own.
In the recruiting process when he was ranked as one of the top players in Pennsylvania and one of the best corners in the nation, he didn't want coaches to tell him how good he was or promise him early playing time. On his official visit to Penn State, he was all business and had no desire to walk around downtown on a Saturday night. Teammates took notice right away, with safety Jordan Lucas saying Reid is "a good kind of different."
"He didn't need the selling part," his father said. "He just wanted to know can you make me better?"
Franklin continues to see Reid's seriousness and maturity every day, even in some unexpected and unusual places. When Reid sat down for dinner in the dining hall Monday night, glued to his iPad watching football cutups, Franklin took note. He said it's no surprise to see a cornerback spending a Friday or Saturday night in his dorm room studying or FaceTiming with his girlfriend.
"That's who he is," Franklin said. "He's locked in. It's school, it's football, and it's his girlfriend. That's it. That is his entire focus."
That's how he's always been, too. John was just 18 years old when Little John was born. As a kid, Little John was a sponge, soaking up knowledge and asking questions when he was around his dad's friends. Reid's father suggested that perhaps this is where his son's maturity comes from and credits many people, from John's mom, stepdad, stepmom, among others who had a hand in raising Little John.
His father still sees glimpses of the same competitive little boy, who, after his first loss in a 100-meter race at age 11 walked off the track and right over to him, wanting to know how to get faster so he never would lose again. Later that year father and son saw a brochure about speed and agility training when signing up for football. John told his father the lessons were all he wanted for his birthday. His father now laughs at such an unconventional gift for an 11-year old, but said his son enjoyed each of the 18 workouts.
Seven years later, after two PIAA Class AAAA football championships and a seamless transition to Penn State, the younger Reid still is far from satisfied.
"I'm super happy that he's doing what he wants to do," his father said. "As a 9-, 10-, 11-year-old kid saying, 'Dad, do you think I could play college football?' To see it all pay off as his dad and for everybody in his life, there's not a better feeling."