On Feb. 16, former Ohio State Buckeyes and current Salt Lake Screaming Eagles quarterback Verlon Reed dropped back to pass and hit wide receiver Derwyn Lauderdale in the end zone for a touchdown.
Hundreds of the 8,191 fans in attendance gleefully stormed the field. But this wasn’t the end of the game. In fact, the Screaming Eagles weren’t even leading. It was the first touchdown in the history of the Salt Lake City franchise, an expansion team in the Indoor Football League.
“That kind of surprised me, I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Reed, a former OSU wide receiver and Findlay quarterback. “To be honest, it kind of threw everybody off. It felt like the game was already over.”
Neither Reed nor his coaches called the touchdown-scoring play. The Screaming Eagles, marketed as the first “fan”-chise, allow their fans to vote on which play to call. Fans can download the team’s app and select one of four options.
“The coach has the iPad that he’s looking at and he’ll see what play has the higher percentage and then he’ll let me know through my earpiece,” Reed said. “I’ll relay it to the team with the wristband.”
Fans also picked the team’s name, uniform, warm-up music and three players on the roster. Additionally, the team decided to put each player’s Twitter handle on the back of their jerseys.
Reed is in the middle of resurrecting his football career, which started promising for a local kid who dreamed of being a Buckeye then moving on to the NFL. A first-team All-Ohio quarterback as a high school senior, Reed entered OSU in autumn of 2010 listed as an athlete and began practicing with the receivers.
“The most difficult thing I had to do was to get used to playing the technique at the receiver position, because that’s where they changed me,” Reed said.
Reed redshirted his first season in college but thrived early in his redshirt freshman season amid turmoil following the resignation of then-coach Jim Tressel. He caught nine passes for 132 yards in the first five games, ranking him second on the team in each category.
But his season was cut short after suffering a torn ACL late in a game against Michigan State.
By the time he fully recovered, OSU had hired Urban Meyer as its head coach. Reed’s playing time dwindled and he only had a single catch in the season opener.
“Me and the head man just didn’t agree on a lot of different things,” Reed said. “Everywhere I go, the story is (that) I didn’t get along with my teammates, or it was because of the guys they were bringing in. Hearing that, it’s definitely incorrect, but they get the chance to tell their side of the story more than I do.”
He planned to transfer during the 2012 season, but spoke to Meyer who convinced him to stay with OSU the rest of the season.
“When I went to go talk to him, I started getting more reps, started getting back into it,” Reed said. “It just died down from there. So I just, we just figured it’s time for both sides to move on.”
Reed transferred to the University of Findlay in January 2013 after taking visits to Ohio Dominican, Ashland and Saginaw Valley State. He had barely heard of the university, but Findlay was the only school to offer him the chance to play quarterback.
“I told myself if I got that opportunity again, I’m going to take it,” Reed said.
After playing receiver for three years, Reed needed time to work off the rust and re-learn his mechanics. But once he felt comfortable at the position, he took over.
Findlay offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Troy Rothenbuhler remembers the first time he slightly adjusted the offensive scheme and Reed took the ball 80 yards for a touchdown.
“Shoot, the first time we ran it, he was gone,” Rothenbuhler said. “I mean, it was two steps in and he was off and running. At that point, nobody was catching him because he didn’t even have to make a move.”
Reed led the Oilers to an 8-3 record his junior season and a 5-6 record as a senior. In his final season, he threw for a school record 2,712 yards and picked up 634 yards on the ground.
“I know his Ohio State experience didn’t go as well as he wanted it. I think his Findlay experience was much more than he initially thought it could be,” Rothenbuhler said.
In May, after graduating, Reed participated in a tryout with the Detroit Lions. Before joining the Screaming Eagles, he hadn’t played much football.
“I play a little flag football just to stay in some kind of football shape to stay with it, but other than that, this is my first professional league team,” Reed said, referring to the Screaming Eagles.
The Screaming Eagles called him a few months before the season began on Feb. 16 to express interest. Reed attended a camp before the team offered him a contract.
“It was the only thing that was feasible enough for me to actually give a serious look at,” Reed said. “I got a call from a team in Germany in Europe. But I don’t really know their situation as far as money-wise.”
He said he won’t feed a family at this level of football. He plans to pick up a part-time job.
“I’m going to get one just because I want to make extra money. You’re not going to take care and feed your whole family with the check that you get here,” Reed said.
Reed said he hopes to use this opportunity as a stepping stone.
“This is definitely for me just to kind of bump my career to the highest level possible, hopefully the CFL or NFL,” Reed said. “I’ve got the skill and talent, I just need the right set of eyes to get their eyes on me, the right person to believe in me and I’m going to make them a believer.”
He said this is the lowest point in his career, but he won’t stop anytime soon in his quest to play professionally.
“Sometimes, I’ve felt like I didn’t love it any more,” Reed said. “But, at the end of the day, I still feel that fire in my heart and I’ve got that desire. Until that leaves me, I won’t stop playing football.”