Bernard Reedy Jr. was measured during the University of Toledo's pro day and quickly reminded of his biggest — and smallest — problem.
The first time he had heard that he was not as tall as the men with clipboards preferred was when he was coming out of Lakewood High School. Despite finishing with 38 touchdowns and being selected as the Tampa Bay Times' all-Pinellas County offensive player of the year as a senior, he was not heavily recruited.
Reedy used the snub as fuel, amassing 2,735 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns during his four years with the Rockets.
Still, no matter how many touchdowns he scores, no matter how many yards he picks up and no matter how fast he runs, Reedy cannot escape one statistic.
The diminutive wide receiver/kick returner, who could be selected in later rounds of the upcoming NFL draft, stands 5 feet 8 inches.
"It can get tiresome having to go through the same questions about my height," Reedy said. "… But it's something I can't control. I just use it as motivation."
Reedy was profiled as a potential prospect on NFL.com. The site listed his strengths (quick, soft hands, terrific leaping ability) and weaknesses (undersized, small hands, extremely short arms). He was given an overall grade of 4.82 out of a possible 10 and projected as a priority free agent.
"That grade gave me even more incentive," Reedy said. "I have it saved as a screen shot on my cell phone. I see it every day."
For the past four seasons, Reedy has tried to make a mockery of the league's carefully honed receiving prototype. Last season, he was a second-team all-MAC pick. In 2012, he was first-team all-MAC at three positions (receiver, kick returner and punt returner).
And the bigger the game, the better he performed. Two seasons ago, he was named MVP of the Idaho Potato Bowl after returning a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. He also was MVP of the 2011 Military Bowl after catching three passes for scores. At the East-West Shrine Game, held at Tropicana Field in January, Reedy caught four passes for 46 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown.
Reedy continued to hone his craft, too. He trained in Cincinnati with Clif Marshall, the performance director at Ignition, a speed and training facility that helps potential draft picks prepare for the combine. Reedy found out about Ignition through Louis Murphy Jr., the Lakewood and Florida Gator standout who currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The media hasn't done much on Reedy, but he warrants a late-round pick in the draft," Marshall said. "I've trained over 160 prospects, and Reedy has as much quickness as anybody I've had. He could fit with a team not only as a kick returner, but also as a slot receiver."
Still, it was not enough to receive an invitation to the NFL combine. Instead, professional scouts came to Toledo in March to see if Reedy can defy orthodoxy with his speed and stand up to the rigors of the NFL. Reedy ran the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.44 seconds. Then he faced his biggest obstacle — again — as he was measured in a room filled with the talent evaluators who would determine where he fits into a team's future plans.
"All I can do is prove my worth on the field," Reedy said. "To me, this like a job interview. You're trying to show that you not only belong in an NFL training camp, but that you also should be on a 53-man roster when the regular season starts."
There is one local player Reedy can look to who has already defied the odds. Dexter McCluster, a former standout at Largo High and the University of Mississippi, is the same height as Reedy. McCluster was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 2010 draft and made the pro bowl last season as a kick returner. In March, McCluster signed a three-year, $12 million contract to join the Tennessee Titans.
"Dexter kind of paved the way," Reedy said. "He doesn't have the ideal size, but he has showed he can produce. The biggest difference is that he played college football in the Southeastern Conference and I was in the MAC."
Reedy is not leaving anything to chance. He continues to work out on his own at another training facility, Cooper Speed in Tampa. All 32 teams have contacted Reedy and at least 10 are showing serious interest, he said.
But Reedy has no plans to watch the draft.
"The hardest part is the wait," Reedy said. "I don't think I can sit around for that. I'll probably have some kind of family gathering. Maybe we'll all go bowling."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected]