It takes quite a bit to get Cedric Reed mad.
But if you’re so inclined to get on the Incredible Hulk side of this normally mild-mannered, soft-spoken 6-foot, 6-inch, 258-pound human being, here’s how you do it: Hold him during a football game.
“Illegal things, like getting held, really get under my skin,” the Longhorns’ junior defensive end said. “I mean, it’s football, and stuff like that happens. But in the moment when it does, it just seems like it’s the worst possible thing you can do. It really gets to me.”
If opposing offensive linemen are holding Reed this season, they’re doing a pretty poor job.
Playing opposite Jackson Jeffcoat, Reed is quietly putting together an all-conference caliber season.
“Quietly” is the operative word.
When Texas visits West Virginia tonight to try and extend its Big 12 winning streak to six games, it’s Reed, not the generally more high-profile Jeffcoat, who enters as the Longhorns’ leading tackler. That makes him the only defensive lineman in the league — and only one of four in the nation — to lead his team in tackles.
But it’s more than Reed’s 54 total tackles. He trails Jeffcoat by one in tackles for loss (12 to 11), and sacks (6 to 5), and by two in quarterback pressures (13 to 11). He leads Texas in forced fumbles (3 of the team’s total of 6) and is tied for first in pass breakups with 4.
Reed is one of only three defensive players in the FBS with at least five sacks, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
His most recent forced fumble came last week when he knocked the ball loose from Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps on a sack. Defensive tackle Chris Whaley scooped it up and ran 40 yards for a touchdown that broke up a tight 14-6 game.
“I’ll put him up for the defensive player of the year award in the Big 12,” defensive back Quandre Diggs said. “He’s always in the right place at the right time.”
Reed wasn’t an instant phenom when he arrived at Texas from the small Southeast Texas town of Cleveland, after the Longhorns won a recruiting tug-of-war with Texas A&M for his services. He was force-fed experience over the second half of the 2012 season, starting the last six games when Jeffcoat was sidelined with a pectoral injury.
The light finally started coming on, he said, in the Alamo Bowl. In Texas’ 31-27 victory over Oregon State, Reed posted a career high in sacks (1 1/2) and equaled his career bests in pressures (4), and tackles for loss (3).
“It’s just a football game,” he said. “And when you finally figure out it’s just a football game, you just play the game you love and that you’ve been playing your whole life and just put it all together.”
That, essentially, is what defensive ends coach Oscar Giles has been preaching to Reed from the time he arrived on campus.
“The game has slowed down for him a little bit,” Giles said. “In his freshman and sophomore years, he was still adjusting to coming from a smaller school. He went from playing in front of 500 at Cleveland High School to playing in front of 100,000.
“I told him to imagine he was still at Cleveland on a Friday night,” Giles added. “It’s football. Now go and beat that guy in front of you.”
Reed has done just that, taking up in this season where he left off in 2012. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said Reed is blessed with numerous physical traits that not all big guys possess.
Robinson described Reed as “tall” and “linear.”
“And he can get leverage,” Robinson added. “That really works. He gets under people. He can bend and he can get separation. All those things work for you, if you can make them work for you.”
A former high school basketball star, Reed also is blessed with long arms. They enable him to fend off offensive linemen and create the separation that allows him to make moves to get to the quarterback. Combined with his ability to time his leap, they also have allowed him to bat down four passes.
Reed has never measured his wingspan, but his arms, he said, “are pretty long. They’ve been helping me a lot.”
In fact, Reed called his long-arm rush “one of my favorites.”
“I’ll take that to the grave with me,” he said.
Reed has been burying opposing quarterbacks and running backs with such efficiency this season that he acknowledges, somewhat reluctantly but accurately, that he’s having his best season.
But one of his traits that coaches appreciate the most is this attitude.
“Good isn’t good enough for me,” he said. “I want to be the best.”
Being the best at Texas, with its long history of outstanding defensive ends, is a tall order. Reed, though, is continuing to strive for it by not settling for “good.”
“It’s always dangerous to get that feeling where you think you’re doing good,” he said. “You always want to do better than good.
“That’s just how I live. That’s my motto, that’s my life. Good isn’t good enough. I want better than good.”
What Reed doesn’t want is to be held. Offensive linemen have been learning that the hard way.
TEXAS VS. WEST VIRGINIA
6 P.M., MILAN PUSKAR STADIUM, MORGANTOWN, W.V.
RADIO: KVET (1300 AM, 98.1 FM)
FAVORITE: TEXAS BY 7
GAME FORECAST: PARTLY CLOUDY, 53
TODAY’S LIVE CHAT
We’ll start our Texas-West Virginia game chat at 5:30 p.m., at statesman.com/bevobeat.