TAMPA — Twenty-five years ago, legendary University of Florida quarterback John Reaves decided to put his life of cocaine and booze behind him. He joined a church, started a career in real estate and lectured high school students about staying clean.
But police say he may have gone back to his old ways. The 58-year-old was arrested last week after authorities say he pulled a gun on a man who had moved one of his for-sale signs, and then was caught carrying cocaine while being booked into jail.
Reaves' trouble began when he visited a home near West Shore Boulevard on July 26 to ask if a resident had moved a for-sale sign he had installed nearby. A profanity-laced confrontation ensued, and police say a reportedly intoxicated Reaves retrieved a revolver from his Lexus and threatened the resident with it.
A warrant was issued for his arrest, and Reaves was taken into custody Wednesday night. Deputies at the Orient Road Jail found a small baggie of cocaine in his pocket when they booked him.
Reaves, a former first-round NFL draft pick who went to Robinson High School and was an All-American at UF from 1969 to 1971, has battled drug problems in the past. By the time he was in the NFL, his life, he once recalled to Sports Illustrated, "was literally saturated with drugs and alcohol."
Speaking to students at Central High in Brooksville in 1992, he said he worked up to a $1,000-a-day cocaine habit while playing football. His family kicked him out, he said. Twice he was charged with drunken driving.
But the former all-time NCAA passing leader would turn his life around, getting treatment and counseling and embracing religion. He found life beyond football, too, building a successful real estate business in Tampa.
"I'm lucky," Reaves told the students. "There's a lot of guys who did a lot less than I did that are dead now. Drugs will end it for you. They'll cut your head off."
In a telephone interview Monday, Reaves' attorney, Nicholas M. Matassini, said Reaves would plead not guilty. According to a police report, a witness to the for-sale sign confrontation noted that Reaves only pulled out his gun after the resident said he was going to retrieve his own.
"He was protecting himself, which is what he has a right to do," Matassini said.
A former Florida high school player of the year, Reaves was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1972. He would play professionally for more than a decade, including three years in the United States Football League with the Tampa Bay Bandits, but never achieved the stardom he gained in high school and college.
Reaves coached under Steve Spurrier at UF in the 1990s and also worked at South Carolina and Cornell.
Reaves was charged with possession of cocaine, bringing contraband into a detention facility and aggravated assault with a firearm, according to jail records. He was released early Thursday on $9,000 bond.
Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or email@example.com.