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April 30, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the first day of spring football practice at the University of Virginia last month, Joe Reed rolled his right ankle during a special-teams drill. The result was a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for three weeks.

When Reed, a 6-3, 210-pound wide receiver, finally returned to practice, his teammates and coaches took notice.

“Our point production and big plays went up, and it didn’t take long,” UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “[Reed] gave us another athletic, explosive player on the perimeter that allowed us to move the ball in bigger chunks and score more points, and it happened as soon as he was cleared and came back. It just was immediate: Joe’s back.”

The Cavaliers held their annual Spring Football Festival at Scott Stadium on a sweltering afternoon Saturday, and Reed was among the offense’s standouts, along with running back Jordan Ellis and quarterback Kurt Benkert.

No statistics were kept, but Reed ran for 15 yards on a jet sweep and caught about a half-dozen passes. He proved a challenge for defenders to tackle.

“He adds another dimension that not a lot of guys can bring out there,” offensive tackle Jack English said.

Mendenhall said: “As you saw, it’s fun to see Joe Reed with the ball in his hands.”

As a true freshman last season, Reed touched the ball primarily on special teams. He returned 27 kickoffs for 678 yards, and his average of 25.1 yards per return ranked third in the ACC.

His role in the offense was limited. He had two rushes (for 3 yards) and four receptions for 77 yards. But UVA lost several key offensive players, including running back Taquan Mizzell and wideout Keeon Johnson, who combined for 101 receptions, and Reed can expect many more touches this fall.

“It’s my time,” he said. “We had some guys graduate, and in my mind I’m next in line. I’m going to do everything I can do to just have a great year.”

His most memorable play in 2016 was probably the 50-yard kickoff return he had against North Carolina at Scott Stadium. Reed came agonizingly close to breaking the return for a touchdown, but he stumbled and couldn’t keep his balance.

“Honestly, I don’t go back and look at that,” Reed said, smiling. “It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

Otherwise, though, “I’ve been watching film on my kick returns, and it’s going to benefit me this fall,” Reed said.

A graduate of Randolph-Henry, one of the state’s smaller high schools, Reed is from Charlotte Court House, a town of approximately 460 residents located about 50 miles southeast of Lynchburg.

At Randolph-Henry, where he put up big rushing and receiving numbers, football wasn’t the only sport at which Reed excelled. In baseball, he played center field and was named to the Virginia High School League’s 2A all-state first team three times.

As a senior, Reed batted .538 and stole 32 bases. He hasn’t ruled out playing the sport again one day.

“Baseball is always an option for me,” Reed said.

For now, he’s focused on football. To have ended spring practice with a strong performance “makes me want to work even harder to do more in the fall,” Reed said.

At Randolph-Henry, he starred in a variety of roles for the football team, and he’d like to do the same at UVA. “However I can get the ball in my hands, I want to get the ball in my hands and make big plays,” Reed said.

English said: “Joe’s a great athlete, and as you saw today he showed at times he’s able to make plays for us, and any time you have a guy who can get up and down the field and make guys miss, it’s useful.”

In 2016, when the Wahoos finished 2-10, they ranked 112th nationally in total offense and 115th in scoring offense. How they will fare this fall on offense is difficult to predict.

Four graduate transfers — quarterback Marvin Zanders (Missouri) and offensive linemen Colin McGovern (Notre Dame), John Montelus (Notre Dame) and Brandon Pertile (Oklahoma State) — will join the program after this semester ends.

Zanders is projected to back up Benkert, and the three linemen will compete for starting jobs. On a team in desperate need of playmakers, candidates include Ellis and Daniel Hamm at running back; Reed, Olamide Zaccheaus, Doni Dowling and Andre Levrone at wideout; and Evan Butts and Richard Burney at tight end.

In the passing game, English liked what he saw this spring from Reed, Zaccheaus and Levrone in particular. Those three “kind of stepped up into that role as guys who can stretch the field,” English said, “as well as just take a shorter pass and make guys miss and be able to pick up big chunks of yardage.”

Offensive players wore white jerseys Saturday — except for Benkert, whose orange jersey signified that he was not to be tackled — and defensive players wore blue. There were also about a dozen players in red jerseys.

One of them, cornerback Tim Harris, was allowed to play in the full-contact drills, with the stipulation that he not try to tackle. Harris is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

The other players in red were also on the mend from various injuries. This group included defensive ends Andrew Brown and Christian Brooks, wideouts Dowling and Warren Craft, offensive linemen R.J. Proctor and Ryan Bischoff, cornerbacks Darious Latimore and Kirk Garner, and running back Chris Sharp

“Every player on our roster matters in terms of depth and being able to practice and perform the way we want to,” Mendenhall said. “When you consider some of the names that are in red, they start to be pretty significant.”

Even so, Mendenhall said, the Cavaliers’ 15th and final practice of the spring will pay dividends.

“It gave us one more chance to evaluate our team, our depth and areas of our team that are strong,” Mendenhall said, “and some areas that need improvement … I think we are making progress, with a long ways to go.”

The `Hoos will play seven games at Scott Stadium this season. The first is the Sept. 2 opener against William & Mary.

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