GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After a wild recruitment in which he committed to Louisville and then later Michigan, linebacker David Reese ended up passing over his hometown Wolverines to sign with Florida last winter.
He connected well with the coaching staff and the potential for early playing time intrigued him, with linebacker being a relatively thin position for the Gators. But ultimately, one of the main reasons Reese calls Gainesville home had nothing to do with football at all, according to his high school coach.
“Once the offers started flowing in then I thought his maturity really showed. He really knew what he wanted, more so than any kid I’ve seen,” Farmington (Mich.) High School coach John Bechtel said over the phone this week. “He wanted to find a place that could give him three things: No. 1, he wanted to play in a conference where they ran the football because it matched up with his level of play. No. 2, he wanted to go in early and be part of spring football. And he also wanted pre-admission into the business school.
“That’s not something you typically get from a high school kid. That shows you what kind of a kid he is. That’s really one of the reasons he de-committed from Michigan, because they wouldn’t do that.”
Michigan wasn’t going to let him enroll early, as Reese explained to MLive.com last December, and Bechtel said the process of business school admission was a factor as well.
Bechtel found Reese, who was a four-year starter at both linebacker and fullback for him, to be a heady guy on the field with a strong football IQ — which bodes particularly well for the challenge he faces this week.
Just nine games into his true freshman season, Reese is expected to start at middle linebacker for No. 22 Florida on Saturday against South Carolina. He takes over the responsibility of pre-snap communications and signals from injured defensive leader Jarrad Davis.
With Davis (ankle) and fellow veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone (broken arm) both ruled out this week, the Gators turn to Reese and redshirt-freshman Kylan Johnson to play bigger roles in the middle of the defense.
This is a prime opportunity for Reese to show why he was so coveted as a recruit.
“He’ll handle most all of (the communications), obviously, from that position. Good thing is with him being here in the spring (he) had an opportunity to kind of run the show this spring even when Alex was gone,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “… He starts the communication, but the key is the echo and the coordination with the safeties as well. So they’re going to have to be on top of their game.”
Reese, who was rated as a 3-star recruit and the No. 14 inside linebacker in the class of 2016, came down to a final four of Florida, Nebraska, Texas and TCU before choosing the Gators.
He returned to Michigan during a recent break, and Bechtel said Reese feels very comfortable with how his first year at Florida is playing out — and how his eventful recruiting process turned out in the end.
That he’s playing so early for the Gators is not a surprise at all to his high school coach.
“He was a two-way, four-year starter for us. I don’t think we’ve ever had that before,” Bechtel said. “We play in one of the most difficult leagues in the state of Michigan, and David was a (starting) fullback and inside linebacker as a ninth grader. So we knew he could play and I think he was probably calling the defense by his sophomore year.”
Bechtel remembers Reese being self-motivated in the film room, wanting to thoroughly understand every aspect of his role and responsibility.
“We ran a pretty complex system and he was with us for four years. I think that’s certainly helped him and he was able to make an awful lot of adjustments from week to week for us, and obviously it looks like he s carrying that on to Florida,” he said.
Reese has impressed McElwain with his performance throughout the fall, but notably in the two games when Davis was forced out early with his ankle injury. Reese took over for the senior leader in the second half of Florida’s win over Missouri last month and finished with 6 tackles. He matched that total again at Arkansas last weekend after Davis exited in the third quarter.
Veteran safety Marcus Maye said he’s been most impressed with Reese’s ability to pick up all the plays as a rookie.
“He can tackle, he can run east-west very well, just like Jarrad and Anzalone. With him being a young guy, it’s definitely exciting,” Maye said.
And with Davis and also possibly Anzalone moving on after this season, Reese is effectively auditioning for his role next year.
“When you mix his intelligence, his size and above all else his work ethic, the future is his,” Bechtel said. “… I think the future is as great as he wants.”
All recruiting rankings are courtesy of the 247sports composite.