John Reid had been visualizing that moment for quite some time.
He’s seen himself cross the goal line at Beaver Stadium with the ball in his hands after an interception. But up until Saturday night –– it had only been something he was imagining in his head.
The St. Joe’s prep product had come close before. Just last week, he grabbed his sixth career interception and ended up just a few yards short of his first carer pick-six.
A week later, the ball was in his hands again. But this time when he looked up, the only thing he saw in front of him was the end zone. Nothing was stopping him from reaching pay dirt as he went untouched into the end zone, sending the student section in front of him into a wave of excitement, and maybe a little bit of relief.
“It was a shift in momentum,” safety Garrett Taylor said. “The fans saw we were turning things around and after that, it was all up for us.”
Reid’s first pick-six couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nittany Lions. Trailing 10-7 early in the third quarter to a Buffalo team that was dominating the time of possession, Penn State needed its defense to make a play –– because the offense wasn’t making a whole lot of them to that point.
On a team filled with young, inexperienced players, it was Reid –– the only player on the Nittany Lions who played against Buffalo at Beaver Stadium four years ago –– who stepped up.
“It was a huge play from a momentum perspective,” James Franklin said. “He’s a guy that everybody respects. The sideline reacts to him because they feel so strongly about him. It was a huge play, we were able to get some momentum.”
But the jubilant reaction along the Penn State sideline wasn’t just because the Nittany Lions had retaken the lead at a time when things were looking a little bleak.
The soft-spoken, film-loving Reid has been around the block and has earned the respect of everyone on the sidelines. There are only a few players on the roster that could spark that kind of reaction.
“He’s a guy who’s been here for five years now –– he’s a veteran,” Blake Gillikin said. “When he makes a play like that, it ignites the sideline.”
At the end of last season, John Reid and his family met with James Franklin and the Penn State coaching staff.
It’s not uncommon during Franklin’s tenure –– he likes to meet with all of the players that are eligible to leave early and potentially make the jump to the NFL.
After his first two seasons at Penn State, it almost seemed inevitable which was that conversation would go for Reid after his third season in Happy Valley came to an end. But an injury in the spring of 2017 caused him to miss the entire season and his return to the field as a redshirt junior in 2018 wasn’t as smooth as he would have liked.
“We were all pretty much on the same page,” Reid said, recalling the meeting. “The biggest thing I tell coach [Terry] Smith is just continue to be really hard on me. ‘Coach me as if you’re coaching me like somebody who’s just coming in here. We all know the things I need to improve on. Don’t let me get away with nothing in practice.’”
Reid has seen over the past couple of years that coaches sometimes ease up on players as they mature and gain that respect from their contributions on the field. But Reid didn’t want any of that. If he was going to come back for his final season, he wanted to make sure everyone around him was helping him improve.
“I just wanted to overemphasize it,” Reid said. “Sometimes you may not notice you may not have been doing something as well as you may have thought. When you have people on the outside looking in that know what it looks like when you’re at your best, they can always constantly critique you. I appreciate that feedback.”
Before the ball even left the right hand of Buffalo quarterback Matt Myers, John Reid was already making a break for the ball. He’d seen the Bulls run that play a few times earlier in the game.
“Third-and-medium situation, they had a run a similar route earlier in the game for about a four-yard gain,” Reid said. “I saw the same look and the same release from the receiver, the same tempo, the same everything.”
Garrett Taylor saw it all develop before his eyes.
“As the quarterback released the ball, my eyes snapped and saw John jump in front of it,” Taylor said.
Just a few seconds later, Reid was in the end zone and the celebration was on.
But there wasn’t too much time to celebrate –– the defense had to come right back on the field after the ensuing kickoff. But the flip had already been switched on the Penn State defense.
On the final seven Buffalo drives following the interception, the Penn State defense forced four punts and two turnovers on downs.
As the clock wound down and Penn State closed the book on a 38-3 second half that allowed a more comfortable feel inside Beaver Stadium than one might’ve expected at halftime, there was Reid –– back to the simple, composed player that his teammates have become accustomed to –– “stoic,” as Taylor described him. He looks like the player he showed flashes of as a freshman and sophomore. He’s more mature, certainly, but he’s also feeling about as good as he has in a Penn State uniform.