Jayden Reed ready to inject speed, playmaking ability into MSU's offense
For anyone who has followed Michigan State football the past few seasons — namely its offense, which has been among the worst in the nation at putting points on the board — it’s something that has been sorely lacking.
However, things might be about to change, and one of the biggest reasons is the anticipated debut of redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jayden Reed. The transfer from Western Michigan is about to get his shot with the Spartans when they open the season Oct. 24 against Rutgers, and he’s ready to add some spice to an offense that has been bland for far too long.
“Probably one of the biggest things is speed right now,” Reed said when asked about how Michigan State’s offense might look different this year. “I believe we can attack them vertically. I mean we’ve already got good (running) backs, so we can spread them out. We also have very talented, big, strong receivers where we can take the top off a little bit.
“So I think vertically, that'll be a huge change from this year to last year, vertical threats.”
It’s likely that is music to the ears of Michigan State fans. For the better part of the past four seasons, the Spartans have lacked that facet to their offense. They’ve had sure-handed, tough receivers — Darrell Stewart, Felton Davis, Cody White to name a few — but the true game-breakers have been absent.
That’s what makes the arrival of Reed so intriguing. He’s exactly that type of player, and he’s already proven it at a high level.
As a freshman at Western Michigan in 2018, Reed caught 56 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He scored four touchdowns in one game against Miami (Ohio) and had a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown against Delaware State. It was good enough for Reed to be named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
It was also enough for Reed to decide he wanted to test himself against the best as he opted to transfer to Michigan State, sitting out the 2019 season after his attempt at immediate eligibility was denied by the NCAA.
“I’m a very competitive person and that was a lot of it with me,” Reed said, explaining his decision. “I wanted to get a great education, first and foremost, and second off I wanted to compete with the best. So, that was a huge reason why I came. I felt like it was in my best interest to come here and play at Michigan State.”
There’s no doubt Reed wanted to play last year, and former coach Mark Dantonio certainly pushed for it. But while the Spartans’ offense could have used Reed’s playmaking last season, he believes it has all worked out for the best.
“I'm glad (I sat out) because it shaped my character in a way,” said Reed, who will likely be a focal point of new coordinator Jay Johnson’s offense. “It helped me become a better person, helped me become more patient. It really helped me and gave me a year to get faster, stronger, focus on myself.
“So, I don't regret it at all. I'm very happy where I am right now. Everything happens for a reason.”
Indeed, it does, and the stars were aligned for the native of Naperville, Illinois, to end up in East Lansing.
Reed starred in high school at Naperville Central catching passes from Payton Thorne and running alongside receiver Cade McDonald. Both, of course, were freshmen at Michigan State last season, with Thorne in the midst of a quarterback battle.
That familiarity was crucial, Reed said, in his decision to come to Michigan State, and it didn’t hurt his “best friend” Malik Hall is set to begin his second year on the basketball team. And when things were shut down during the spring and summer, Reed and Thorne put in plenty of work back home.
“Payton's home is pretty much my second home, honestly,” Reed said. “He built a weight room in his garage with wood and stuff like that. So we worked out a lot, we threw a lot together, ran a route tree. We did a lot of studying the playbook, trying to get better and making sure we are ready whenever our names are called.”
There’s no telling if Thorne’s number will be called this season as he’s battling junior Rocky Lombardi and sophomore Theo Day for the starting spot. Reed, on the other hand, will be in the mix from Day One.
He says there’s definitely a rapport with Thorne, but he quickly grew close to Lombardi, as well, and insisted the Spartans’ offense will do well with whoever lands the starting job.
And, Reed was giving no hints as the second week of practice began.
“I couldn't even tell you who will be the quarterback after one week,” he said. “I honestly couldn't.”
What he can tell you is he’ll be ready. Ready to prove his one season at Western Michigan was no fluke. Ready to prove he can be the spark the Spartans’ offense desperately needs.
After all, he’s been proving himself all along.
“Ever since I've been in high school,” Reed explained, “I haven't been like the big-time player, you know. I was a three-star (recruit), wasn't a five-star. I always faced those type of guys, so pretty much for me it was just whoever I'm in front of I feel like I'm gonna take it to them, regardless of what their label is or whatever it is.
“I'm just willing to compete, so it doesn't matter who it is, I'm going to come at you. That's how I feel.”
Add in a dose of speed, and that’s a recipe that’s likely to add some excitement this season.