football Edit

The story of the text that made Jason Reynolds a Wildcat

Northwestern signed just one player on this second, traditional National Signing Day: unranked linebacker Jason Reynolds out of McDonough (Ga.) Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy.

Just a few days ago, no one would have expected Reynolds becoming a Wildcat today. Heck, Reynolds himself didn’t expect it until he received a text message on Sunday from Northwestern linebackers coach Tim McGarigle.

The twist here is that Reynolds received the text message while on an official visit to another school. Reynolds was in Houston to check out Rice University when McGarigle’s text turned his recruiting picture upside down.

All the text really said was to give McGarigle a call. But that seemingly innocuous text led to a phone call, which led to an offer, which led to Reynolds becoming the 16th member of Northwestern's Class of 2022 this morning.

Reynolds, whose dream school was Northwestern since the first time he talked to coaches back in October, still can’t believe how it all went down.

“It was a surreal experience,” said Reynolds via Twitter direct message on Tuesday, the day after he committed to the Wildcats. “I’ve heard stories about situations like this, but I never thought it would be something I encountered.”

Reynolds didn’t see it coming, either. He said that he didn’t think twice when he first saw McGarigle’s name pop up on his phone.

“I figured it was just a check-in call that coaches typically make so I waited and contacted him on Sunday night once my visit was over,” he said. “I called, planning to update him on my recruiting activity. Immediately, he offered me - that was it!

“With Northwestern being my dream school, I feel like it was God’s timing. It’s made this journey that much more special!”

Journeys like Reynolds’ are becoming rarer and rarer in college football. In this age of combines, social media, camps and recruiting services like Rivals, it’s hard to fly under the radar.

If you watch Reynolds’ tape, you might wonder why he didn’t have any other Power Five offers. He’s 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds. He can run, he’s athletic and he can hit. Yet his nine other offers were from the three service academies, a few other Group of Five schools and FCS programs like Harvard and Colgate.

Reynolds has a few ideas about why he didn’t attract attention from any big-time programs.

“I think there were a couple of factors,” he said. “I play for a small school in Georgia, 30 minutes south of Atlanta. Sometimes small schools get overlooked because of the schedule they play.”

Indeed, Eagle’s Landing is a small, private school with less than 1,000 students. That said, the Chargers played 14 games and faced some nationally known programs such as Ware County in Georgia and Cincinnati St. Xavier in Ohio. That helped Reynolds, who didn’t attend many camps last year because of a lingering track injury (he runs the 400 meter dash).

“The tough schedule and the film I had against these teams made a huge difference, especially since most teams caught me late in the process. It was extremely fun to challenge ourselves by playing D-1 players week in and week out and it made me a better player.”

It was that film that snagged McGarigle’s attention. He got Reynolds to come up to Evanston for a visit on Jan. 14. “The staff and facilities were amazing,” he said.

McGarigle sees Reynolds as a player who could play different roles as a linebacker. He also sees a young guy who has yet to fully develop.

“He’s always talked about athleticism so I feel like my role would be more versatile from weak side LB and maybe float to some other spots,” he said. “I’m extremely excited to see how the program can help me develop. I’m 17, so I look forward to seeing how my body continues to change as I work hard. My physical development will be a critical factor in the position I play.”

Reynolds thinks that he has the tools to excel in whatever role the Wildcats want him to play. Ask him about his strengths and his answer demonstrates his knowledge of the game – as well as his outstanding writing ability. Remember, he typed out his answers on DM.

“As a linebacker, I love hitting and I feel I can lead a defense if this is where the team needs me,” he said. “The game has increasingly become more cognitive. The mental aspect of the game has to be present in every player to be successful, no matter what level.

“My coaches have always told me I play smart football so I think this is an asset for me. Moreover, I have length - especially my arms and good speed for passing lanes. By maximizing what I have naturally, and continuing to hone my speed and strength, I can add another dimension to the linebacker position.”

Once he got the offer, it didn’t take Reynolds long to make up his mind and pull the trigger. He had been considering the service academies, Ivy League schools and other “high-academic” schools, such as Tulane and the aforementioned Rice.

But Northwestern checked all of his boxes. He wanted top-notch academics, combined with Power Five football. He found it at Northwestern.

It didn’t hurt that Reynolds, who is of Jamaican descent, comes from a family of educators and has an aunt and cousin who have degrees from NU. His response to why he decided to commit and his answer could go directly into a marketing brochure for the football program, if not the entire university.

“The three main factors that went into my decision making process were location, education and opportunity,” he said. “Since Northwestern is only 20 minutes away from Chicago, it is the perfect place to begin this new chapter in my life. Of course, the academic reputation of the school is outstanding so it checked that box easily.

“When considering schools throughout the recruiting process, I placed special attention on the ones that would provide me with the best opportunity off the field. The Northwestern alumni network is outstanding and I look forward to connecting with this community.”

There’s also the football part of the equation.

“Lastly, playing time is extremely important to me as a person who loves the game,” he said. “I want to work and contribute to the team as much as possible. I’m excited to compete as a Wildcat and I feel like I have a genuine shot to get on the field within the next couple years.”

Northwestern feels like a perfect fit for Reynolds. No one feels luckier to be a Wildcat today, and it all started with a text he received three days ago.

“Coach McGarigle called me with this amazing opportunity, and I HAD to take it!”