Johnathan Reese, who works as a manager in the NFLPA’s Security Department, entered a distinguished group in October when he was inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
During his collegiate career from 1998-2002, the St. Louis native set the school record for career rushing yards (3,321), single-season rushing yards (1,130), single-game rushing (236 yards), single-season touchdowns (19) and single-season scoring (114 points). Reese sat down to talk about his Hall of Fame induction, his football career and how that gridiron legacy extends into his work at the NFLPA.
Question: Did you ever imagine that you would have the type of Hall of Fame career that you ended up having at Columbia?
Reese: That was definitely my goal with the challenges that go along with playing football in Columbia and New York City. The football aspect was difficult. But once I figured out what I needed to do for myself, everything came just as it did in high school.
Q: With Columbia known for its high-level academic programs, how tough was it to balance that with your athletic demands?
Reese: My high school prepared me well for time management. I knew a lot of friends in high school that didn't have any free periods. We had free periods, we could leave campus for lunch. You just knew you had to get your work done because you had practice right after school. It wasn't that hard of a transition because I had gotten used to managing my time before that. But the key to it was it was a structured environment and there was always something that I should be doing instead of messing around.
Q: At what point did you feel like you could make your mark at Columbia?
Reese: My freshman year, I won Rookie of the Year. My first game, we beat Harvard and I had some good runs there and I knew I could build from there. It just didn't come right away. It took my until the summer between my sophomore and junior year to train with the few guys that would stay because they had an internship. After work, everyone came and we lifted and ran. We took extra sessions on weekends so we could go and throw passes, just to make sure we were doing all we could. Career development was important, which is why we tried to stay in New York for the internships. And the second part was we were trying to build from our class and the class above us a unit that understood each other and what was going to happen on the field.
Q: What is your fondest memory of your time at Columbia?
Reese: My junior year, the first game against Fordham. We had all practiced real hard during camp and everything went right. I had 170 yards and three touchdowns and that set the tone for the rest of the year. We had some good payers around -- Jeff McCall at quarterback, a coulee receivers and the defense playing well. We were really close to having a really good season. Only a couple games we lost by a field goal and touchdown-- just some small mistake that kept us from getting to that next level. Personally, it was that first game and I knew I had worked hard enough to continue that on for the rest of the year.
Q: What helped prepare you for taking the next step to the NFL, where you played from 2002-2005 with the New York Jets?
Reese: It was watching other small school players. Other I-AA an Division II players, just evaluating my peers and seeing the numbers they put up and knowing if they were getting looks, I could be getting looks. My junior year, I was the same class as Brian Westbrook and I was second to him in all-purpose yards that year. So that was something I felt good about. He went on to the NFL and had a good career. I was just this close.
Q: What was your “Welcome to the NFL” moment?
Reese: My “Welcome to the NFL” moment was walking into the locker room and seeing Curtis Martin. It was like I was a freshman and he was a senior with a lettermen's jacket on. That was the first time I felt that way, thinking 'MAN, that's Curtis Martin.' Those were the only games that came on in New York, the Jets and Giants, so I watched Curtis Martin run for 4 years after he came to the Jets from New England. He was very quiet, relaxed but also focused.
Q: How has your experience as a collegiate and NFL player helped with your job at the NFLPA, where you have worked since August 2015?
Reese: In my position of security, my director Tim Christine being a retired Secret Service agent, he's very attuned to financial crimes and investigating. What he's shown me, you see the story time and time again of players that don't have control of their money or they're allowing someone else to control their money and then they end up in a bad situation. He's given me some tools that have helped me combat that in the future.
Tags Former Players