TALLAHASSEE — As he sprinted toward the sideline on an end around, Florida State receiver Bert Reed did something he failed to do earlier in the game against Maryland:
He faked out the first would-be tackler.
"The coaches had challenged me on the bench after I got drilled the first time on an end around. Can I make anybody miss?" said Reed with his ever-present smile. "They know I'm not going to run anybody over. I'm only 167 pounds. That wasn't going to happen. It was sort of a personal challenge."
With that one move, the redshirt sophomore from Panama City answered the challenge, gave himself the time and space to accelerate to top speed and didn't slow until he reached the end zone 42 yards later to help FSU eke out a crucial win.
"He stuck his foot in the ground and made a big-time play," offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. "He's growing and playing consistent and learning."
"Bert Reed is as dynamic a player as there is," said Florida coach Urban Meyer, who had received an oral commitment from Reed only to see him change his mind and sign with the Seminoles in 2007. "If you let him get into the open space, he's going to beat you. And we'll work awful hard at that, to not let that happen."
Meyer and the Gators might not have had to contend with him Saturday, when the Seminoles visit Gainesville, had Reed not faced a bigger challenge — growing and learning off the field.
Reed was suspended for a game on three separate occasions last season. That included for missing too many classes and for being involved, along with several teammates, in a brawl with members of a fraternity — an incident that carried with it a misdemeanor battery charge.
"I was close to being out of here," said Reed, 21. "I was at the point in my life where I felt I was going to reach my potential or I was going to be one of those guys who would've, could've, should've."
Reed did some soul searching.
What do I want in life?
What do I want to be known for at FSU?
"I'll never forget sitting in my conference room and he said, 'This is the year I let my actions speak for who Bert Reed really is,' " said attorney John Kenny, who handled Reed's case.
Reed, who had been arrested as a juvenile on drug charges, resolved the misdemeanor battery charge by entering a pretrial diversion program and began to take his responsibilities outside of football more seriously.
"You have players who take things for granted," senior linebacker Dekoda Watson said. "They mess up, and they think they're going to get the second chance (over and over again), but all of a sudden, they're upset because they've lost the opportunity. Bert made mistakes, but it's about how you bounce back from those mistakes, and he's bounced back."
"From last year to this year," added redshirt freshman quarterback EJ Manuel, "Bert is a whole different person."
FSU coach Bobby Bowden, who has been criticized for years for giving his players multiple chances, said that Reed probably was on a "third strike," but the coach knew his background and refused to give up on him.
"Bert has grown up a lot," he said. "That's what people do if you give them a chance. Or should do. That's what he's done."
Reed has not just been more responsible and disciplined when it comes to his academics and his conduct, he has been more attentive and conscientious at football practice — a sign he realizes that performance in the classroom and the stadium are related.
"It's no accident that the same guys who are good people off the field are successful on the field," Fisher said. "Being a winner, you don't turn on and off."
"I didn't understand that when I got here," Reed admitted. "Understanding that helped create discipline in my life, and that's something I really never had before. I never really had anybody tell me to be where I was supposed to be or do this or do that. I did listen, but I felt my priorities were more important than what they were talking about. I had to take a step back and understand it doesn't work like that."
Reed, a quarterback and running back when he was at Bay High, is tied with senior Rod Owens for the team lead in receptions with 53 and leads the team with 671 receiving yards. He had just 23 catches for 295 yards last season.
He has also added 75 yards on 13 rushes, including two touchdowns. The first score came on another end around as he cut up field and plowed his way in from the 3 in the waning moments against North Carolina State.
"There's a whole other level he can get to, and he's just now starting to scratch that surface," Fisher said. "There's a lot of ball left in Bert."
Ah, another challenge.
Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report. Brian Landman can be reached at land firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.