Realizing he didn't want to lose a valued employee, Doug Johnson sent a text message earlier this week, jokingly offering a raise from $11 an hour to $13 with the hopes of keeping Bernard Reedy among the 140 or so drivers at Care Ride, a Clearwater-based company that provides rides to people who need wheelchair transportation.
Reedy, 25, remains on the Care Ride payroll as Driver 303, but he landed a job over the weekend as No. 18, picking up some Sunday shifts as a first-year receiver with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Johnson couldn't be happier.
"It's refreshing to see somebody with that good a personality and that kind of work ethic hopefully make it down the line," said Johnson, an administrator at Care Ride. "He's a very polite young man, very well-grounded, willing to do whatever it takes."
That same attitude made him one of the success stories of Bucs training camp. Undersized at 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, the Lakewood High graduate nearly made the Bucs a year ago, but a knee injury late in preseason ended those hopes. He returned to the roster in December but didn't dress for any games.
The Bucs had other more experienced options for their fifth and last receiver, but Reedy had a near-perfect preseason — eight catches on nine passes thrown his way, including the team's only touchdown catch in its four games coming in the preseason finale Thursday.
"They earned it, plain and simple," coach Dirk Koetter said of the last spots on his roster. "I have a history with some of those guys. When I told them, 'Hey, Bernard played the best,' it was tough for anybody to disagree with that. I think that sends a great message to our players: The guys that played the best made our team."
For much of this offseason, Reedy spent his downtime between workouts driving for Care Ride — he had started working for them part time after he was cut by the Falcons in 2015. He was eating at a Burger King and saw one of the Care Ride vans dropping off a customer and liked the idea as a side job to keep him busy.
"I can't sit around and just not do anything," said Reedy, who had 23 touchdowns in his last three seasons at Toledo from 2011-13, once going for 237 yards and three scores in a single game. "I saw one of the vans driving around one day and I was like, 'That ain't bad. I like driving.' And you're helping people. Obviously that person needs help. So I went on Google, found out where it was located and put in an (application)."
Getting that job, admittedly, was easier than becoming an NFL receiver, but he found it gratifying. Much of Care Ride's business is through the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's DART program — Demand Response Transportation, which helps people who, because of disability, are unable to safely or independently use PSTA buses to get around.
Reedy even found ways to work out while working — "That van is big, and it has a jump seat you can do pushups on. You can open the doors and let the lift down and there's a seat that folds down. I'll put my legs on there and do some incline pushups or turn around and do some dips."
To be from St. Petersburg and playing for the hometown Bucs is a thrill for Reedy, who has already gotten congratulations back home, at the gas station, back around Lakewood, where he's an inspiration to today's undersized players.
"I look at it like a motivation, showing people that are from where I'm from that it can be done, as long as you work hard and stick to it," he said.
Back in late July, Johnson remembers when he got that rare phone call to his office where a driver says he can't work for a while because he will be busy at an NFL training camp.
"It's one we haven't had before," said Johnson, a Bucs season-ticket holder for the franchise's first 20 years who said he would like to get back to see Reedy play this season.
Reedy's new job has him starting out with an entry-level rookie-minimum pay rate of $465,000 — he will make $27,353 each week he's on the roster, whether he's among the 46 that dress on Sunday or inactive and watching from the sideline. He's excited, but he said also knows how much he enjoyed his last job and the interaction he had with people he drove around.
"I wouldn't change that for the world — those are some intelligent people," he said. "You're taking care of people who are parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties. Those people trust you. You want to make sure you get them from the doctor and back home safe and sound."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.