When Great Bend High School senior Alex Reed suffered a devastating knee injury during Class 5A district football action last fall, one had to wonder if the record-setting sprint wunderkind would ever get back on track.
We’re talking about a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — the worst possible knee injury there is — along with a partial tear of the meniscus.
We’re talking about a two-time 400-meter dash state champion and a one-time 200 state champ — the school-record holder in the 400 (48.37 seconds) and the long jump (23 feet, 10 inches).
After undergoing major reconstructive knee surgery on Nov. 5, the pain, at times, was almost unbearable.
“I really wasn’t sure at first,” Reed said, “because I had a lot of pain right when I first started trying to get back into therapy.
“It felt like someone was taking a hammer and just hitting the front of my knee and the side of my knee, pretty much. At first, I thought, ‘This might take a while,’ and I was getting kind of nervous because track season was just around the corner.”
Despite his injury, the recruiting letters continued to flow into the mailbox at the Reed residence and never did stop.
NCAA Division-I Wichita State University never wavered, either.
On Wednesday morning at GBHS, Reed made it official. He signed a national letter of intent to run track for the Shockers, starting this fall.
“A lot of it was that they don’t have a football program and they put a lot into their track team, so that’s what I really liked about it.
“And, my mom (Jackie) used to go to school there and I have family there (relatives), so it’s just a good place for me to be. I’ve been working hard, trying to come back. So far, I’m doing real good and I think I will be back soon.”
Great Bend head football/track and field coach Bo Black told of the smile Reed had on his face after returning from a recruiting visit to WSU in February.
“He’s super-excited about going to Wichita State,” Black said. “When he came back from Wichita State, he had a big smile on his face.
“You could tell by the smile on his face that you knew he was going to Wichita State. It looks like it’s going to be a great fit for him.”
Black hearkened back to that numbing Oct. 22 district game at Salina Central.
“It was a terrible, terrible knee injury in football,” Black said. “Here’s a two-time state champion coming back for his senior year … is he going to be able to come back for track?”
Deep down, though, Black said he knew the answer.
“As good as an athlete that Alex is, he’s even a better kid,” Black said. “He’s such a hard-working, dedicated, kind young man that really is a positive influence on everyone he is around.
“I never really doubted that he would, just because of the things that we’ve talked about … his work ethic and upbringing. After everything is said and done, I think Alex would be the first one to say that he would be disappointed if he doesn’t come back and repeat as state champion.”
It was Reed’s dedication to his therapy that put him on the fast track to recovery, according to Jackie.
“It was very intense for him because he had major, major surgery,” she said. “I know it was pretty painful, and he got right into therapy.The one thing I think about him is that he’s never missed therapy. He goes to every therapy session, and he does what he’s supposed to do at home. He’s really dedicated to get to where he needs to be.”
“It was pretty tough the first few weeks, but once he was able to get out of the immobilizer (securing his knee) and they got some range of motion going, he started progressing.”
Black says Reed is getting past the healing process. In a few more weeks, when the weather starts to warm, he will be back competing.
“The ultimate goal for us right now is for him to get back on the track and get back to competing on a high level,” Black said. “If you didn’t know that he had a devastating injury, you would never tell by watching him practice on the track right now.
“The toughest thing, I think, for him is being patient and moving into it slowly. The hardest job as coaches is trying to convince him to take it easy and slow it down a little bit. For the most part, he’s been pain-free and moving very well. Even coming off knee surgery, he’s still the fastest kid out there. His 75 percent is faster than anybody’s 100 percent that we have out there, for the most part.”
Just competing isn’t enough for Reed, who will be expecting optimum performances. His 21.77 clocking in the 200 is just a fraction off the school record of 21.75. He won the 200 at the state meet in Wichita as a sophomore, and has never won a state crown in the long jump.
“Right now, I’m still aiming for a 47.0 in the 400, which is still possible and I think it is,” Reed said. “Right now, I want to get my 200 time down to 21 (seconds)somewhere. If I do get to jump close to the end of the season, I’m going for 24 (feet). I had 23-0 last year.
“I think it’s attainable to get, just coming off of last year and the year before that. I think it’s well in reach and I think I can get it. ... just got to keep working.”
Watching Reed run a race the past couple years could probably be described as a blur.
“His top speed is the fastest I’ve ever been around,” said Black, a native Texan and former football player at NCAA Division-II Emporia State. “He’s just such a fluent runner and he runs so effortlessly. Three weeks from now, we won’t be talking about this knee injury, just because he’ll be competing at such a high level.
“The biggest thing for him right now is just to be able to get into shape without sprinting and that’s what we’re really concentrating our efforts on.”
One would think Reed would also take the field by storm in the 100, although it’s an event he doesn’t compete.
“He is such a natural 200 and 400 runner,” Black said. “His open speed is a fast as anyone I have been around. He’s impressive from zero to 10 yards, but his gift is the long, effortless sprint stride that he has. He’s just a natural.
“We have him in those two events, and he’s also in the long jump. He’s the best long-jump kid that we’ve ever had. He’s got the school record. He jumped 24 feet last year, and we’re holding out hope at the very end, maybe by the regional track meet, that we can long-jump him.”
To be certain, the big picture is more important.
“It’s a 100 percent true statement that we’re more interested in Alex Reed’s success in the future than we are winning an event in a track meet,” Black said. “We want to make sure that he gets stronger and that he’s ready to move on to the collegiate level.
“We’ve always ran him in a sprint relay, the 4x100 or 4x400. He’ll be great in that as well.”
Reed also battled some nagging injuries last season, but far short of the magnitude in which he suffered this past winter.
“His sophomore year, he was super-healthy when he ran that 48.37 (in the 400),” Black said. “During his junior year, he was right on track to be at the top and then he suffered through a hamstring injury.
“He broke the long-jump school record as a junior and at the end of the season last year, right at the regional track meet time, he’s not healthy. He came back and won the 400. He really limped through the 400 at the state track meet to win that. He was nowhere near full-speed.”
Last fall, during football season, Reed set the longest kickoff return in GBHS history, taking one back 100 yards for a touchdown.
Reed, a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection, had 20 catches for 356 yards and four scoring catches as a deep threat at wide receiver. He also had 11 kickoff returns for 307 yards, a 27.9 yards-per-return average.
“He was a really, really good football player for us,” Black said. “But he’s as natural of a track athlete as you have ever been around.”
It is the second straight year that GBHS has produced a Division-I signee in track and field. Lady Panthers standout Alex Hartig, a 2010 graduate, signed with and competes for Arizona State.
Reed is the first male D-I signee since Jeremy Reed, his cousin, signed at Kansas State for football in 2007.
“When he’s at a track meet, everyone takes a second glance and knows who he is,” Black said of the current sprinter. “He’s going to line up and he’s going to win the 200, he’s going to win the 400 and he’s going to win the long jump.
“And, it’s a question of who’s competing for second place, when he’s healthy. It’s been that way since his sophomore year.”
In the bloodlines
Alex’s father, Sebon, and Jackie say their son has always been fast, dating back to his pre-teen years in AAU competition.
“I ran track and my brother and cousins and nieces, they’ve all had good years in track,” Sebon said. “It’s kind of in the blood.”
Jackie also has some athleticism on her side of the family tree.
“My brother (Steve Crosby) played professional football for the New York Giants in the 1970s,” she said. “He was drafted out of Fort Hays State. He played for the Giants for three years before he got injured.”
Crosby also was a National Football League assistant coach for several years after his playing days came to a halt.
“He’s had multiple coaching jobs. Up until this year when he retired, he was a coach with the San Diego Chargers,” Jackie said. “He started out with the Miami Dolphins, he’s been with the (New England) Patriots, he’s been with the (Philadelphia) Eagles, he’s been with the (Atlanta) Falcons and he’s been with the (Cleveland) Browns.”