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From Bull to Bandit: Former USF star Greg Reaves shining in rebooted USFL

The former Bulls outside linebacker has a team-best three sacks in seven games.
Former USF standout Greg Reaves has totaled 28 tackles and three sacks for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the rebooted United States Football League.
Former USF standout Greg Reaves has totaled 28 tackles and three sacks for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the rebooted United States Football League. [ ICON SPORTSWIRE | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images ]
Published May 27|Updated May 28

He has taken a pinball’s life in pursuit of his NFL aspirations, ricocheting from Manatee High to military life, from Hillsborough County to Hollywood and now, to the deep South.

Greg Reaves is nearing 26 and is equipped with a master’s degree from USF in entrepreneurial business, hoping eventually to use it to expand his mom’s child-care center in Palmetto. Yet the former Bulls edge rusher didn’t follow the dream this far to hop off now, while some centrifugal force still lurks in this wild ride.

“Really fun,” he said.

In the latest incarnation of his football life, the onetime Bull has evolved into a pass-rushing, pass-batting dynamo for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the rebooted United States Football League (USFL).

“I just kind of bet on myself,” said Reaves, a four-time member of the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team during his USF career (2015-2019). “I had this sure thing with a sure (military) career and things of that nature, and everything was going to be planned out for me. I’m just glad that I ... went and chased my dream.”

A spoonful of that NFL existence only spiked his appetite for a full serving. Undrafted in 2020, he signed a free-agent contract with the Rams in late April that year and spent most of that pandemic-tainted tenure in Zoom meetings, only to be waived a few months later, on Aug. 1.

The Bandits opportunity arose this past February, when the team selected him in one of three outside-linebacker rounds (players were chosen each round by position) in the 35-round USFL draft.

“Some of these guys kind of got duped a little bit through the COVID stuff, it made it a lot harder to maybe reach their final goal or get to where they want to get to,” said Bandits coach Todd Haley, whose quarter-century NFL coaching career included nearly three full seasons (2009-2011) as Chiefs head coach.

“But that’s the great thing about the USFL, it’s giving all these guys an opportunity to continue their dream.”

So far, Reaves has seized this latest chance vigorously, embracing a carpe-diem mentality in a per-diem existence. USFL players on the active roster reportedly earn $4,500 for each regular-season contest and an additional $850 for every win.

In seven games, Reaves has 30 tackles and three sacks for the Bandits (3-4), who, like all USFL teams, are playing every contest this season at one of two stadiums in Birmingham, Alabama.

Two of the sacks came in a 27-20 win against the Michigan Panthers in Week 5. In that same contest, Reaves also deflected a Shea Patterson pass inside his own 20 that resulted in an interception and forced a fumble at midfield with less than two minutes to play.

The effort resulted in a free dinner at an extravagant Birmingham seafood restaurant courtesy of Haley, who had vowed to hand over his credit card for a complementary meal to any player who registered at least two sacks and helped force a turnover.

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“I can’t stress enough that these guys love to play football,” said Haley, whose staff includes an assortment of NFL veterans including former Giants All-Pro linebacker Pepper Johnson.

“They’re hungry, and Greg is at the top of that list. It’s like, ‘What do you need, Coach? I got you.’ We can put him in a lot of different places, and he’s going to go out there and play hard and help us make plays.”

Any future crack at the NFL would further validate the well-documented decision Reaves made nearly a decade ago. A Manatee High alumnus, he had earned an Air Force Academy appointment after excelling on the academy’s prep-school football team but bypassed that opportunity to walk on at USF, where he believed he’d have a better chance at fulfilling his goal of reaching the NFL.

By the summer of 2017 — his third season on campus — Reaves had earned a scholarship. He eventually made 37 consecutive starts for the Bulls, amassing 212 tackles and earning a 3.8 grade-point average as a graduate student.

Had he taken a conventional route after college, he’d almost certainly be earning more from the business world than he is from the Bandits.

Then again, he’d be short-changing his dream.

“It’s been awesome just to kind of be a sponge,” said Reaves, who shares a three-bedroom Birmingham apartment with two teammates.

“We have an awesome coaching staff; all our coaches are so connected. ... (They) know so many people, and just kind of getting in and learning from these guys has honestly been an honor. I’m just trying to take what I can from them each and every day.

“I can only hope.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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