Always an Athlete - by David "DJ" Reeves, former NFL Tight End/Duke University
Sports have always been an important part of my life, a lot more than just games to play. As a competitor, I always wanted to be the absolute best that I could, athletically and academically. My competitive spirit came in part from growing up as the youngest for most of my childhood and wanting to “prove myself” to my older cousins who were bigger and stronger than me. I grew up in a small town in Alabama with older sisters (8 and 9 years my elder), who were athletes in their own right (softball & volleyball). I don’t have a biological brother, but some of my teammates became as close as brothers as time went on.
I’ve been fortunate to have some great coaches throughout my time as an athlete. I’m thankful for all of my coaches across all sports, from little league baseball all the way to professional football in the NFL. I say that because I was exposed to many different coaching styles/personalities as an athlete, and even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy the delivery, I was able to receive the coaching and improve myself because of that.
I was a three-sport athlete during my time at Greensboro High School, but everyone knew that football was my passion. I owe my transition into a top HS prospect to my Head Coach at GHS, Curtis Graves. He’s the coach that really showed me what I needed to do and where that could take me. Even though he only coached me for one season, his dedication to the team was like no other. He took us to camps and combines almost every weekend during the summer, allowing us to compete and see where we fit among other prospects. During the week we lifted weights, ran, and had 7 on 7 competitions. This was all new to me and my teammates, and I appreciate him for that. I saw how much time and heart he put into our team in such a short time and it was imperative that I reciprocate that as a player and captain of the football team.
I went from 0 offers in spring of 2010 to my choice of over a dozen D-1 scholarships by the next spring. When I arrived at Duke University in summer 2011, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was prepared thanks to my time under Coach Graves at GHS. As my career evolved, so did coaching and its impact on me. As I gained more knowledge of the sport, I realized there was even more that I didn’t know.
Sometimes I do wish that I’d stepped out of my comfort zone and did more activities outside of athletics, but I don’t think that this had a negative impact on me. I just knew that as an athlete I didn’t really have the luxury of time to do some of those other things. I learned a lot thanks to my college coaches. I still apply some of the things I heard at Duke to my everyday life.
I don’t think at any point I thought about Athletics in an unreasonable way. I knew that one day it would come to an end, I just didn’t know when. I reached the pinnacle of my football career and made it to the NFL. When I was released, I battled with depression and had some resentment toward the sport. Being an athlete is a huge part of my identity and it's always going to be a part of me. I was struggling with the stress of uncertainty, and all those things that I thought that I’d prepared myself mentally for, hit me like a ton of bricks when I was no longer playing. No longer being on a team, no longer having a hard schedule given to me, & no longer having a defined clear set of goals it really gave me a harder time than I thought it would. “Control what you can control'' was something my position coach at Duke, Ron Middleton would say often. There are times that things will happen that are out of your control, but you can always control the way you react to it.
After some time, I realized that even though athletics was a part of my identity, it wasn’t the only reason that people associated with me. I am and I have always been more than just an athlete. The things that I learned from my coaches were a lot deeper than football.
David “DJ” Reeves is a former NFL Tight End (Pittsburgh Steelers; Cleveland Browns). As a 4-year starter, Dj is a part of one of the most winning classes in Duke Football history. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Sociology and is currently finishing his master’s at Duke’s Graduate School.
He hosts a football camp in his hometown of Greensboro, AL. Dj is now a Compensation Analyst and resides in Durham NC with his wife, Aisa.