DeValve, Reid Learned to Act Like a Pro at Princeton
By JAY GREENBERG
Manchester (Ct.) High School had a 2-8 record during Seth DeValve’s freshman year, and then went 22-9 the three seasons he played varsity. DeValve committed to Princeton as it was going 1-9 in Bob Surace’s first season, and then saw playing time as a freshman on another 1-9 team. Two years later he was catching passes for an Ivy League champion.
Therefore DeValve, already twice proven to be a ground floor kind-of-a-guy, is not easily dismayed by his Cleveland Browns’ 1-15 record during his rookie year, even the scant two winning seasons enjoyed by the franchise since returning to the NFL in 1999.
As a bad place to land, this could turn out to be pretty good.
“There are pros and cons,” says DeValve. “You can learn a lot through a team that is successful because of the way they do things every part of every day, but this is a chance to be part of a foundation of a winning program.
“There wasn’t any negativity at all inside the building last season. We had a new coaching staff, new players, and a lot of hope on the horizon. A lot of credit goes to Coach (Hue) Jackson for maintaining a positive attitude. It is an uncommon thing to have a 1-15 team stay as close together as we did last year.
“To turn things around at Princeton took an uncommon commitment from a bunch of uncommon guys. Everybody in football wants to win, but to be the best starts outside the building. If you practice two hours a day, what do you do with the other 22? Are you committed to get enough sleep, take care of your body, study the game plan, stay out of trouble and be available to your teammates? That’s the uncommon commitment that separates good teams.”
It is uncommon for an Ivy League program to have two alums in the NFL in any given season, but both DeValve ’16 and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Caraun Reid ’14, appear to be in their teams’ 2017 plans.
The Browns used the third of their three first-round-picks on another tight end, David Njoku, and Randall Telfer, a 2015 sixth-round pick who started four games a year ago, is in camp competing for a spot. But the day following the selection of Njoku, the team released eight-year veteran Gary Barnidge in the apparent belief that DeValve’s 12 catches as a rookie were the beginning of many more.
“His ability to run routes, catch the ball, leave his feet and catch the ball away from his body are showing up here,” tight ends coach Gary Seamon told reporters in June. “He is noticeably stronger, faster and healthier. I see Seth as a guy who is important to us.”
Likewise, Reid made a favorable first-impression with the Chargers before his 2016 season ended with an ACL tear in week seven. Cut at the end of 2016 training camp by the Lions, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2014, Reid landed fast and apparently well in a reserve role with what observers believe is one of the best, if not the best, defensive lines in the NFL.
Of course depth means competition. But while a year ago Reid had a sense early in the exhibition season that his time in Detroit was coming to an end, this time he already feels he is in a new home as the once-San Diego Chargers move into theirs.
“I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be here,” said Reid. “I know I am a good player. I like where I am, like the team, like the vibe around here.”
There is not much to dislike about another year in the NFL, regardless of where. It’s difficult to make it, and, unless you establish yourself as better than a special teamer within a few years, a lot harder to stay. The Jets moved Princeton’s Mike Catapano ’13 (seventh round 2013) to linebacker, which he knows he is not, and camps have opened with him still hoping to get a shot to compete for a place on somebody’s defensive line.
But three Princeton draftees in the last five years have proven you are not necessarily at a disadvantage coming from a school far better known for its brains than its brawn. The level of football competition is higher in the power conferences, obviously, but neither Reid nor DeValve felt any less prepared for the pros by Princeton’s program than the draftees and free agents from Notre Dame, Arkansas or Washington State.
“There are some ways where the NFL is head and shoulders above the Ivy League but others where it is close,” said DeValve. “(Receivers] Coach (Dennis) Goldman prepared me very well for what I am doing now.
“Some of the ways he coached that position are different, more true to this level. The technique he taught about running a clean route has really given me an edge.
“The biggest difference here is in the size of the individuals, in terms of overall skill, it is not as big a jump as what people want to make it.”
Granted, there is a huge difference in speed at the skill positions, but no reason for a high-end recruit to believe that a decision to attend Princeton is a prioritization of academics over athletics. “If you can play, they will find you,” said Reid. “It might drop you down a couple (draft) rounds, that’s all. As far as knowledge or training goes, I came to the Lions at no disadvantage to any other first-year player.
‘I wouldn’t say the playbook is more difficult (than at Princeton). The schemes aren’t really that much harder than in college, but you do have to learn how to study better.
“We study more film, go into greater depth about opponents because, in college, we didn’t have that amount of time to invest. We had to go to school. You have a lot more time in the NFL to learn on the fly. But I was as prepared as most rookies to make the jump. Princeton and (Defensive Line Coach) Steve Verbit did a great job for me.”
Reid, a nose tackle in a Princeton 3-4, is now in a 4-3, just like at Detroit, albeit carrying 18 fewer than the 303 pounds he reached for the Tigers. “I am a lot better down here,” he says. “I can get up there if I want to, but this is more natural.”
He scooped up a fumble and ran 61 yards for a touchdown against the Colts in Week Three, drew a holding penalty in the end zone against Denver that resulted in a safety, and was getting 10-20 snaps a game until Week Seven, when he got hit on the side of his leg.
“In the moment, I didn’t think my season was over,” Reid recalls. “I was just having a good game and wanting to stay in it.
‘They told me on the sideline [the ACL was torn]. To get that news was heartbreaking; I had just gotten there. At Princeton, I tore a [pectoral muscle] and fought through that. But when you can’t stand on a leg, you know it’s bad.”
The only good thing is that he was able to be in Princeton Stadium to watch the Tigers beat Dartmouth for a second Ivy title in four years. Rehab is never fun but Princeton’s program turned around by the examples set in the weight room by their best players, including Reid.
“Right now, I don’t feel anything from the surgery,” said Reid. “I just haven’t played football in a long time, need to work off some rust.”
DeValve, who caught at least one ball in the last seven games–one of which the Browns actually won–started some of those plays from the slot, like old times at Old Nassau. The Cleveland wide receivers being thin as the Dawg Pound in the patience department after all this losing, the tight ends probably will be featured in the passing offense as the Browns shoot for a jump in respectability.
With the emergence of Joey Bosa as a premier defensive end, the Chargers arrive in Los Angeles as a trendy pick to be a playoff team. While the interior line will be anchored by Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget, Reid is competing for a place in the rotation against Damion Square, a starter a year ago after Mebane was injured; Tenny Palepoi, Ryan Carrethers and recent seventh-rounder Isaac Rochell.
“I wouldn’t say the biggest difference in the NFL is the players are bigger and stronger, but that they are smarter,” said Reid. “There is something about the way the veterans approach the game.
“I was surprised by it. They know how to prepare their bodies. That has kept them in the league a long time.”