ORLANDO -- What cornerback John Reid doesn’t know as he prepares for Tuesday’s Citrus Bowl against Kentucky is whether that will be his last game in a Penn State uniform.
What the redshirt junior from St. Joseph’s Prep does know is that he has rebounded from a slow start to his season and is playing the best football of his Nittany Lions career after missing the entire 2017 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“I feel like I play at a super-high level,” Reid said Friday after the Lions practiced at a local Orlando high school. “I think I’ve improved in a lot of areas that I wasn’t good at before. I made a lot of plays on the ball this year. My tackling improved throughout the season. I’ve played slot and outside corner. I showed a lot this year.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Reid, who ended the year being named honorable mention All-Big Ten, intercepted two passes – the fourth and fifth picks of his career – and was in on eight pass breakups. He established himself as a solid tackler on the edge.
Reid suffered his knee injury early in 2017 spring drills and didn’t go full-speed until the start of training camp last August. He had a rough opener against Appalachian State, missing much of the second half with an undisclosed injury, and sat out the next two games before coming back in limited action in Week 4 against Illinois.
He found his stride again, however, in the second half of the season. He posted a career-high eight tackles at Indiana, and grabbed interceptions in wins over Iowa and Rutgers.
“Yeah, definitely I felt really good,” Reid said. “I got a little banged up in the first game. I felt like I bounced back well, especially in the second half. I feel like I made a big difference.
“It was just getting reps. I hadn’t played a game in … a year and a half. You simulate practice as much as you can, but when you get into games you’re going against different opponents. Just getting that feel back was really important.”
Reid said there was no “a-ha” moment that told him he was back, just that he was “constantly putting in the work and the effort each day and being patient.”
Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said he saw Reid start to get back to his old self after the bitter loss to Ohio State.
“He came to practice and made up his mind he wanted to do things a little bit differently,” Smith said earlier this season. “From that moment on, he’s been like the old John Reid.
“John’s a hard worker. He tries to perfect his craft each day. He missed a tackle in the Ohio State game and he felt bad about that. He vowed it would never happen to him again.”
With Reid finishing up his fourth year in the program Tuesday, he has a decision to make on whether to return in 2019 for his final season of eligibility or check out the NFL draft. He said his focus right now is squarely on the Citrus Bowl, but then …
“I’ll probably make a decision like that after the game. Not right now, it’s not important now,” he said. “I think you always have choices no matter what. That’s something I’ll figure out with my family afterwards.”
Reid added that his performance against Kentucky won’t impact his decision one way or the other.
“To me, every game is ultra-important no matter what the circumstances are,” he said. “I handle every game the same. That’s how I’ve been brought up. That’s how I’ve been built.”