Jylil Reeder’s prowess on the football field can be summarized in three letters:
While most high school players are assigned a specific position on their respective team’s roster, it’s hard to pin Reeder to one spot given all he does as a senior for Samuel Fels. As a result, he’s just listed as “ATH,” short for athlete. His natural position is wide receiver, sure, but when the Panthers were without their top two quarterbacks in the season-opener against Abington, Reeder lined up under center. He completed 8 of his 15 passes for 44 yards in a 53-22 loss to Abington, while also rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown.
In Week 2 against Penn Charter, Reeder sat out the first quarter, a punishment for missing a practice earlier in the week. The Quakers raced out to a 34-0 lead after one, and it was clear Fels’ chances of winning were slim-to-none. But that didn’t stop Reeder from wanting to atone for his mistake and give it his all. All he did the final three quarters was haul in seven catches for a school record 208 yards and touchdown receptions of 57, 8 and 29 yards, showing his explosive talents and refusing to give up on the game despite it being way out of hand. Not only that, but he also lines up at defensive back on the other side of the ball.
“I let my team down by missing a practice, so I just wanted to play hard to make it up to them,” a remorseful Reeder said a few days later at a Fels practice. “I want to inspire my team to do great things, and you can’t do that by missing practice. It won’t happen again.”
Fels head coach Bill Harrigan agreed, and he said he put it to Reeder in a way to motivate his best and most important player not to miss another one.
“I told him that in three quarters of football, he had 208 yards receiving,” said Harrigan, who has coached Reeder for four seasons. “If he plays the whole game, he’s got a shot at breaking the city record, which I think he was 68 yards away from. That’s one or two catches for him. He thought about that, and I think it’s safe to say it will be the last time Jylil Reeder misses practice.”
Reeder is a grizzled veteran in a program still trying to establish itself in the Public League Gold Division, regularly going toe-to-toe with the likes of Frankford, Northeast, Washington and Central, schools with decades of football history. According to Harrigan, Reeder is just the fourth player in the program’s history to play all four years, something the senior takes tremendous pride in.
Reeder has been there through the rough days, when morale was so low after losses that players wouldn’t come back to practice the following week. Now, he says, the Panthers are proud to be a part of the foundation Fels has set, having reached the rough and tumble Gold Division in a relatively short amount of time. The overall win-loss record may still not be sparkling, but with each defeat against a suburban-type power like Abington or Penn Charter, the Panthers are seeing more and more the togetherness it takes to consistently field a winning team. Down 48-0 in the second half to Penn Charter, Fels played inspired football, correcting earlier mistakes before the division games begin next weekend.
“We’ve always been the underdog,” Reeder said. “Nobody points fingers anymore, and everybody owns up to their mistakes. We all make mistakes, but are you learning from them? It’s all about pride to us now, and we really want to win. No matter how much we’re down, we believe we can come back and win the game. In the past we would hang our heads, but that’s not an issue anymore. Now, we know the game is never over.”
Reeder’s maturity from “this little freshman who asked a million annoying questions,” as Harrigan put it, to undisputed team leader, has been a perfect amalgam for the Fels program.
“These guys are really acting like a team now, and he’s a big part of that, having been here for four years,” the coach said. “When we got back to the school after the loss to Truman, guys were asking me if they could wear their jersey home over the weekend. There’s a sense of pride in wearing those colors now. We haven’t had the luxury of seeing that too much in the past, so it’s real exciting as this thing heads toward the future.”
But make no mistake about it: in Reeder’s final season as a member of the Panthers, he prefers wins over silver linings and moral high grounds. Fels may be 0-2 through two weeks, but so are division rivals Washington, Frankford and Northeast. Reeder sees an opportunity, and he wants to seize it, especially considering this could be his last year as a football player. Harrigan opined that Reeder wasn’t two or three inches taller to attract more Division-I attention. Reeder certainly has the talent to play at the next level of some sort, but that’s not something he is taking for granted.
He knows there’s a finite amount of time left at a school he takes a lot of pride in, and thus wants to make the precious games remaining on the schedule count.
“We just want to win, that’s all we want to do,” Reeder said. “We definitely see ourselves getting better. I look around me and I know I wouldn’t have the success I’m having without my teammates. It’s not just me. We got here together, as a family. We could have rolled over and gone back to the Silver Division, but we want to play the best in order to become the best.”
It remains to be seen where the Panthers will be in the standings come October and November, but right now, they’re out there every day working hard. So far in practice this week, Harrigan said Fels had just one missing player. On Tuesday, practice was supposed to start at 3:30, but the captains, including Reeder, had the team out there 15 minutes early to get in some extra work. That says a lot about how far this program has come, according to the coach and star player.
“With Jylil, I don’t think it’s a cockiness thing; it’s a confidence thing,” Harrigan said. “Cocky involves talking. Confidence is going out there and doing it, and so far, he’s gone out and done it. Mentally, we have the right kinds of kids now. Instead of going into self-destruct mode after a loss, now they’re locked in and committed to improving.”
“We’re a proud program now, and honestly that makes me feel amazing,” Reeder said. “We used to have bad attitudes, where if we lost a game, we’d all blame each other. Now we’re proud to put on this jersey. This school made me, Harrigan helped me get better, as did the seniors that came before me. I’m just trying to pass that on to these guys.”