STATE COLLEGE — The 2016 version of John Reid gave Penn State a fairly solid cornerback.
He intercepted just one pass, mostly because opposing offenses had too much respect for him to throw his way. A force against the run game as well, Reid earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors that season, as a sophomore.
Plenty has happened since, including a devastating knee injury that cost him all of 2017 and contributed to a slow start to this season, but even after a month-long stretch in which his teammates and coaches have raved about his performance, the Nittany Lions’ tenacious cornerback doesn’t want to be compared to his 2016 self for one simple reason.
“I feel like I’m better,” he said.
Big impact vs. Iowa: Reid had a rather impactful late afternoon Saturday at Beaver Stadium. His interception of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and subsequent 44-yard return to the 3-yard line set up a game-tying touchdown, sparking the Nittany Lions to a 30-24 win over the Hawkeyes. He also helped seal the win with a key pass breakup on Iowa’s last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter.
In all, Reid broke up three passes and even hurried Stanley on a blitz, a sign that the physical 5-foot-10 cover man is becoming a player to be reckoned with again.
“We knew what John was capable of doing; he just needed to get there,” fellow cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “And he’s there, he’s exceeding it. He’s going to keep playing well.”
Early-season struggles: Even if it seemed, for a while early on, that process wasn’t moving as quickly as fans wanted.
Reid struggled in the season opener against Appalachian State, ceding playing time late in the game to sophomore corner Tariq Castro-Fields. Then, the following week in Pittsburgh, Reid dressed but did not play.
Reid was one of the Nittany Lions’ defenders who whiffed on tackling Ohio State receiver K.J. Hill on his 24-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter that gave the Buckeyes a late lead Sept. 29, and he didn’t want the feeling of another missed opportunity to define his season.
A new focus: Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith disclosed last week that Reid suffered a setback in his recovery from his knee injury during that first game that stunted, if only temporarily, what they already expected would be a gradual return to form. But what came back rather immediately was Reid’s famous drive for perfection, a relentless attention to the details that led to a change in attitude, a new focus on his position and the way he attacks it.
“John Reid’s a hard worker,” Smith said. “He tries to perfect his craft each day. He missed that tackle in the Ohio State game, and he felt bad about that. He vowed that would never happen to him again.”
Confidence never wavered: To Reid, none of that is a big deal, of course.
He always played with confidence, even during the struggles, and nothing could make that waver. But he said in recent weeks, his tackling has been better, and his understanding of the situational part of the game that improved even as he watched from the sidelines last year started to make more sense once he got on the field to implement his new approach.
“I kind of stayed patient and kept going, kept working on things I knew I would need to work on,” Reid said. “I just kind of stayed confident in myself, no matter what. I have a great support group here, a great support group back home, and I knew things would kind of get better each week. That’s usually how a season goes. You keep building every week and keep improving on things you did the previous week. It’s kind of what I was expecting.”
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