Couch: The most intriguing player in MSU's football program, Jayden Reed, is ready to introduce himself

Graham Couch
Lansing State Journal
Western Michigan receiver Jayden Reed (87) returns a punt 93 yards for a touchdown against Delaware State at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo on September 15, 2018.

Perhaps it was Mark Dantonio’s desperate hope that Jayden Reed would be eligible for Michigan State last season that piqued my curiosity. Or maybe it was the exaltation of Reed by someone I respect who’d watched Reed’s only season at Western Michigan intently. 

Somewhere last fall — between August and three more months of largely inept Spartan offense — Reed became the most intriguing player in MSU’s football program: A transfer from WMU sitting out, a former freshman All-American receiver who’d scored four touchdowns in one game and returned a punt 93 yards for a score in another. Those things seemed so out of reach for the Spartans.

Nothing is more tantalizing than greatness on the sideline. Especially when it might be exactly what you’re missing.

I don’t know if Jayden Reed will be great at MSU. But I know there’s no reason that what he did at WMU as a freshman in 2018 won’t translate to the Big Ten. And I know Robin Hook, the long-time play-by-play voice of the Broncos — who called the games of Greg Jennings and Corey Davis, two WMU receivers in the last 15 years better than any receiver MSU has produced in that span — believes MSU has something special in Reed.

“He’ll be one of the best receivers ever to play at Michigan State,” Hook said last September, describing Reed as “electrifying.”

After it became clear that Reed wasn’t going to be immediately eligible and able to play last season, Dantonio sounded like a coach who knew what he was missing.

“I guess it’s semi-official (that he can’t play), but I'm going to keep trying,” MSU’s former coach said on Aug. 5, 2019. “I’m going to keep trying to look at all the different ways and possibilities. I wouldn't close the book until we close the book because I think he's a very good player, and we want to do what we can do.”

Monday night, Reed finally made his public debut for the Spartans — on a Zoom call with reporters. He was revealing and charismatic, his hair adding four inches to his 6-foot, 185-pound frame. He talked about “almost” dunking on MSU basketball player Malik Hall, his “best friend back home,” when the two played hoops together at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois, before Reed transferred to Naperville Central. It was in Naperville when he played football with MSU redshirt freshman quarterback Payton Thorne. During the height of the pandemic, when MSU’s players were back home, Thorne’s house was Reed’s “second home.” They worked out together at a gym Thorne constructed in his family’s garage. They’ve known each other since middle school.

Thorne is an intriguing prospect. If you took a straw poll of MSU football fans, I think you’d find the majority are hoping he’s the quarterback. But Thorne’s impact this season is less likely than Reed’s. And the possibilities for Thorne’s career are more wide-ranging. Reed, at minimum, is going to be a threat. Now. As in Oct. 24 against Rutgers. If MSU’s coaches didn’t think so, he wouldn’t have been one of the first four players made available for interviews — after projected starting QB Rocky Lombardi, likely captain Antjuan Simmons and returning starting running back Elijah Collins. 

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Jayden Reed talks with reporters on a Zoom call Monday night.

There’s also more curiosity surrounding Reed than anyone else. 

And he said things Monday that only feed the anticipation of his actual MSU debut. 

“Whoever I’m in front of (whichever cornerback), I feel like I’m going to take it to them.”

And ...

“I think we’ll be a very talented (receivers) group and we’ll surprise a lot of people.”

It's different coming from Reed than it was from Cody White or Darrell Stewart last year. We'd seen them. Talented guys. Confident dudes. But with limitations.

“One of the biggest things (is our) speed," Reed continued. "I believe we can attack them vertically. … I think vertically, that’ll be a huge change this year (from) last year, vertical threats.”

And as to whether he’ll be returning punts, perhaps mercifully ending MSU's nearly decade-long drought without a threat in the return game:

“I’m back there in practice, working on it a lot,” Reed said. “I believe I will be involved in special teams, no doubt.”

I think we’re all intrigued.

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Contact Graham Couch at Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.