SAN FRANCISCO — There was one practice in particular when Nebraska center Ryne Reeves had finally had enough.
Defensive tackle Maliek Collins can’t recall the exact day — sometime in the preseason, maybe? What Collins remembers is Reeves’ reaction to the junior defensive tackle’s tactics to gain an edge in their battles.
The two teammates have matched up against each other for the last two years. Run game sessions. One-on-one drills. Scrimmages.
And Collins hasn’t ever held back. Reeves would be in his stance, gripping the football and getting ready to snap it — while Collins mercilessly tapped the top of Reeves’ helmet and talked trash. "I'm coming. I’m coming."
There were times when Collins said he’d line up with his own hand underneath the football that Reeves was about to snap. Reeves is known to have a “death grip” if you’re unable to maneuver by him fast enough, Collins said. “I wanted to get every inch on him.”
So one day in practice, evidently, Reeves was tired of tolerating all of it.
“Yeah, I tried to get Reeves a lot,” Collins said, smiling. “He got mad. At one point, he stopped practice. He goes, ‘Back the (heck) up.’ But that didn’t surprise me.”
It may not be in Reeves’ nature to lose his temper — those who know him describe him as a laid-back guy who’s rarely rattled and not overly emotional. But they also say the senior center has an internal fire and an intensity that drives him.
There’s a reason this season, which ends in Saturday’s Foster Farms Bowl, was the most productive of Reeves’ Husker career. The 6-foot-3 300-pounder from Crete is a full-time starter for the first time, and he’s playing better than ever.
“He loves what he’s doing,” O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “He put the time in. He’s a great guy. I admire him. He’ll be successful in whatever he does. I’m proud of him. He’s had a good year.”
Cavanaugh has been impressed with Reeves since they met.
Reeves couldn’t practice this spring but was always engaged, Cavanaugh said. Reeves went out of his way to study Oregon State’s system last offseason. He regularly got together in the summer with walk-on and buddy Tyson Broekemeier to improve his snapping.
Collins said Reeves was usually one of the first to arrive for offseason morning weightlifting sessions, too.
“I’d try to be up there at about 5:40 for a 6 o’clock workout,” Collins said. “He’d be right there. You’d walk into the locker room, it’d be all dark and he’d be sitting there drinking coffee or something.”
That’s the kind of dedication Cavanaugh saw from Reeves every day.
Once the season began, Reeves was texting his position coach after seemingly every morning NU staff meeting. Just after 10 a.m., usually.
He wanted to watch film with Cavanaugh. They did this at least three times a week.
They’d break down Reeves’ game. They’d start scouting opponents’ blitz schemes.
In Nebraska’s system, it’s up to the center to orchestrate the presnap blocking adjustments, to identify potential blitzers and to take charge of the communication. Cavanaugh said Reeves is understanding things at a level that most players need three years to reach.
“When a guy likes football and a guy prepares hard — that, to me, is what Ryne Reeves is all about,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh said Reeves never told him much about his previous years at NU.
Reeves worked as a center early in his career, then switched to guard and then back to center — only to split time with another seasoned vet, Mark Pelini.
There were multiple injuries that limited him, too. He has had a couple of shoulder surgeries. Knee injuries sidelined him for two separate springs. He’s broken a bone in his foot and he’s been taken off the practice field on a stretcher because of a neck scare.
But Reeves wasn’t focused on that. He just kept working, convinced that his efforts would pay off at some point.
Broekemeier, one of Reeves’ roommates and good friends, said it’s been fun to watch.
“He’s kind of realized over the last four or five years he’s always been in the mix, whatever it was that just kept him out (of the lineup),” Broekemeier said. “Now he’s finally got the shot and he’s the leader up there in the line. I think he’s taking advantage of it and making the most of it.”
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