Keep doubting Josh Reynolds.
He seems to like it.
Reynolds devours your doubt, feeds off it. It makes him run faster, lift harder, jump higher. It helped him go from a player who graduated high school with exactly zero FBS offers to a player who now has the third-most receiving yards in Texas A&M history. So go ahead, doubt away. "I like always being the sleeper. I like coming out of nowhere and shocking people," Reynolds told STACK.
Indeed, Reynolds has built his career on surprising people. He's not the type of player who takes much stock in what others think of his talents. If he were, there's no chance he'd have made it this far. The doubters have only forced him to have more confidence in himself, which has helped him continually elevate his play and alter the trajectory of his career.
Reynolds has long been a superb athlete. Growing up in San Antonio, he envisioned himself as the next Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. His mother, Michele Reynolds, played basketball at Old Dominion and has been an assistant basketball coach at Jay High School for nearly two decades. It wasn't until an uncle introduced Josh to football that he discovered the sport he'd eventually play professionally.
"Basketball has been in my life forever. But I got introduced to football by my uncle. I was around 10 at the time. I loved the contact, I loved everything about football. I rotated through positions and found that I had some natural hands," Reynolds said.
While football quickly became his favorite sport, Reynolds wasn't the type to specialize. He loved competing, whether it was in basketball, hurdles or the high jump (his personal best was 6-foot-6). "I was moving around between sports so much. I'd have football practice and then go to AAU basketball practice right after that," Reynolds recalled.
He was a three-sport star at Jay High School, and his natural athleticism allowed him to be strikingly versatile on the football field. Not only was he the team's star receiver, he was also a standout safety, a consistent kicker and an all-district punter. In one game during his senior year, Reynolds had two touchdown catches, an interception, a fumble recovery and three successful extra points. You'd think eye-popping performances like that would have every program in Texas knocking down his door, but Reynolds got little love from D-I schools. Looking back, it seems inexplicable. Listed at 6-foot-3 his senior year, Reynolds had the size. He had the production. Did he have the talent? You tell me:
As National Signing Day drew near, Reynolds still wasn't sure of his college plans. Texas A&M had actually offered him a partial scholarship as a track athlete, and he debated accepting it and then walking on to the football team. His lone D-I offer was from Oregon State, but that was abruptly pulled when their staff decided to go in a different direction.
"I got a lot of looks from different colleges. A lot of coaches came and talked to me and said how much they were interested. But I was just never that top guy on their list to earn that offer. I did have one offer, which was Oregon State, and I took a visit my junior year. Then all of the sudden I get a message saying they dropped my offer. So I was kinda stuck trying to figure out what I was going to do," Reynolds said.
His heart was set on playing college football, so Reynolds decided to head to Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas to see if a season at the JUCO level could garner him more attention. His goal was simple—be so good that coaches couldn't ignore him. "I figured I should give myself another shot to see what offers I can get and to get my abilities up," Reynolds said.
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At Tyler, one of Reynolds' roommates was a former Texas A&M quarterback named Matt Davis, who had spent a year and a half in College Station before transferring to JUCO, and he remained on good terms with his former coaching staff. When he saw how good Reynolds was, he tipped off the A&M coaches. Meanwhile, A&M track and field coach Pat Henry—who had offered Reynolds that partial scholarship coming out of high school—was also telling the Aggie football staff to keep Reynolds on their radar.
At Tyler, Reynolds was free to focus all of his attention on football. That allowed him to add extra polish to his game. The result was a smooth, long-striding receiver with hands like suction cups. In 10 games at Tyler, Reynolds racked up 718 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
Being out on his own also taught Reynolds how to hold himself accountable, an important lesson for any talented student-athlete. "It was a transition. You had to do stuff on your own. You had to study on your own, you had to make sure you went to class on your own and there was nobody there saying, 'alright, you need to get up and go to class.' Holding myself accountable, it taught me a lot," Reynolds said.
Thanks to his strong season at Tyler, Reynolds earned about a dozen FBS offers, and he felt A&M was the right place for him. Not only was College Station only a three-hour drive from San Antonio, but Reynolds felt he could help fill the void left by the departure of consensus first-team All-American Mike Evans.
Reynolds enrolled early so he could join the Aggies for spring ball. After such a long road to D-I football, he was elated to finally be at A&M. "Oh man. Being in Texas, I was extra excited. My mom might've been more excited because she could drive three hours and watch me play every Saturday," Reynolds says.
It didn't take long for his new coaches to realize what they had on their hands. During spring ball, Reynolds immediately outshone every other receiver on the roster. His long frame allowed him to snare any pass that entered his orbit, regardless of whether he had a defender draped on him or not. "[He has a] huge catch radius," David Beaty, A&M's receiver coach at the time, now the head coach at Kansas, told ESPN in 2014. "He might have the longest arms I've ever seen."
Reynolds climbed the depth chart, and by preseason camp he'd earned himself a spot in the starting 11. But a painful incident during practice led team doctors to discover a torn labrum in Reynold's left shoulder, an injury that likely dated back to his high school days.
"It was a torn labrum in my left shoulder. I think I had it since high school, my senior year. I wasn't sure though," Reynolds said. The injury had gotten worse over the years, but Reynolds chalked it up to "stingers" and persevered. Now he was being told that fixing the injury would require season-ending surgery. However, Reynolds wasn't willing to give up his starting spot. He played with a torn labrum for the entire 2014 season.
"What made me want to play through it was that it was my first year at A&M. I wanted to prove myself. I just got a starting spot and I wasn't going to let that go because of my shoulder," Reynolds says. "I'm a competitor, I love to compete. I wasn't going to let an injury stop me."
The injury certainly didn't stop Reynolds, and he finished the 2014 season with 842 receiving yards and a whopping 13 receiving touchdowns. The torn labrum didn't have a huge impact on his catching ability, but it did affect his blocking and often left his entire arm feeling numb for series at a time. Following post-season surgery, Reynolds posted another strong season in 2015 with 907 receiving yards.
Entering the 2016 season, Reynolds had the most career receiving yards and touchdowns of any active SEC receiver. With a résumé like that, you'd expect Reynolds to have garnered an avalanche of preseason accolades. He didn't. In fact, Reynolds wasn't named to any of the three preseason All-SEC teams before the season (media or coaches). That meant that both the media and the coaches across the SEC believed there were at least six receivers better than Reynolds inside the conference. There's that doubt again.
"It definitely put a chip on my shoulder," Reynolds said. "I wanted to prove people wrong. I wanted to show that I was supposed to be on those lists, regardless of whether it was first, second, whatever." With a fully-healed labrum and a heavy chip on his shoulder, Reynolds posted a sensational senior season. He finished 2016 with 1,039 receiving yards (most in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns (tied for the most in the SEC). And guess what? Reynolds still wasn't named to either one of the two official All-SEC Coaches teams (though he was named to the All-SEC second-team by the AP). That's especially hard to believe when you watch his senior highlights. Reynolds snares seemingly uncatchable passes like some sort of terrifying eight-armed football octopus:
Reynolds' best performance might've come in his last game in an A&M uniform, as he was unstoppable during the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, recording 12 receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Shortly after he played his last game as an Aggie, Reynolds set his sights on the NFL. He wasn't surprised that he'd earned himself a chance to play in the NFL—in fact, he knew he had the potential to turn pro almost as soon as he arrived at A&M.
"When I realized I can actually make it and play in the NFL was probably my first year at A&M. Just seeing how much I developed from high school to junior college to A&M, it was ridiculous. I still wasn't where I wanted to be ability-wise and technique-wise, but I was still making it happen on the field," Reynolds said.
Reynolds' first stop during the path to the draft was the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. He did his thing, reeling in six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Next, it was time to prepare for the NFL Combine and his Pro Day. To help him get ready for these pivotal events, Reynolds turned to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
STACK got the chance to spend some time with Reynolds at IMG ahead of the Combine, and we saw a focused player who caught everything thrown his way. Some scouts have knocked Reynolds for his "thin frame" (he measured in at the Combine at 6-foot-3, 194 pounds). He might not be a thick receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson, but his physique is certainly more "ripped" than it is "skin and bones."
The Combine prep program at IMG is rigorous, packing a high amount of physical and mental labor into 13-hour workdays. But Reynolds was more than up to the task.
"Extremely coachable, extremely athletic," Scott Gadeken, IMG's Head of Physical Conditioning, said of Reynolds. "He's very smooth on everything he does. No wasted motion or movement."
Dr. Taryn Morgan, IMG's Assistant Director of Athletic and Personal Development, said that Reynolds is so smooth that it can almost be deceiving, making him appear slower than the stopwatch says he is. "He's deceiving. I watched him do a 20-yard shuttle the other day, and it didn't look fast, but it was super fast (on the stopwatch). I think he's going to surprise some people because of his length and sneaky speed," Morgan said. Perhaps that deceptive speed is one reason Reynolds is being praised as one of the best deep threats in this year's draft class.
One area where IMG really helped Reynolds was his diet. Due to the tremendous amount of training athletes undergo during the Combine and Pro Day prep process, they must be on point with their nutrition to compete at a high level day in and day out. "I'm on a different style of eating, and it's definitely helped my energy through the day and how I feel after the workouts. It's helped a lot," Reynolds said. "More chicken, actual vegetables. Before, I was eating pizza from Dominos or something. It's definitely helped a lot."
Reynolds had himself a very nice Combine. His 37-inch Vertical Jump (tied for fifth-best among all receivers) meshed with the incredible jump ball ability he's displayed in games; his 4.52 40-Yard Dash was rock solid; and his 4.13 20-Yard Shuttle was an awesome display of short-area quickness for a dude his size.
All-Pro receiver Mike Evans told NFL.com that he sees a lot of similarities between himself and Reynolds, but that Reynolds is an even better route runner than he was coming out of A&M. NFL legend Torry Holt recently said Reynolds is one of his top-five receivers in this year's class. But the doubt that has fueled Reynolds his whole career is certainly still present—he's currently rated as the number 24 wide receiver in this year's class by CBS sports.
No matter where Reynolds ends up, he's excited to join his new team. "I'm a pack animal. I like having my team with me, I like having guys around me as much as I want to succeed," Reynolds said.
Oh, and he's ready to start proving his doubters wrong. Again. "When I get there, I'm definitely going to make plays for them and contribute," Reynolds said.