Rod Reed doesn’t mind plucking from the top rung.
The Tennessee State football coach has riddled his roster with 11 transfers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools – including former players at LSU, Florida, Miami, Kansas, Illinois and Michigan State.
He also doesn’t mind inheriting players with troubled résumés. Four of those transfers, including three who arrived this summer, either were dismissed or ran into legal trouble at their previous school.
“We do our homework,” Reed said. “Everybody gets a bump in a road and everybody has some things they are not proud of. ... They’re kids – 19 years old. Think about when you were 19, some of the stupid stuff you did. We all live and learn, you grow from those mistakes and you try to move forward and make the best of the situations that you are in.”
While he has scoured FBS – and BCS schools – for top talent Reed refrained in recent days from going after the Honey Badger.
Tyrann Mathieu, the electrifying cornerback and kick returner, was dismissed from LSU last week due to a violation of team rules. He reportedly failed a drug test.
Sophomore Ronn Vinson is a former LSU cornerback who transferred in June. Vinson, who transferred for more playing time, hasn’t been able to contct his former teammate, who is expected to announce his new school on Wednesday.
"We actually did not pursue that one,” Reed said with a wide smile. “It was something had he called us everybody would probably be interested in a kid like that. But I think the chemistry we have in our secondary right now is real good. I’m sure he could have come in and made an impact on anybody’s team. I mean, heck, he was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“But I wish him the best in whatever he does. Again, he is a young kid and he has had a couple bumps in the road. Hopefully he’ll learn from mistakes and move on do well wherever he is.”
Fewer than three weeks from the season-opener, the John Merritt Classic against Florida A&M at LP Field, tight end A.C. Leonard is optimistic about a fresh start.
Last month, he left Florida after one season. As a true freshman, he caught eight passes for 99 yards. But in April he pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge against his girlfriend, which was the result of a February incident. Coach Will Muschamp suspended him but he rejoined the team in March for the end of spring practice. However, in July, he met with Muschamp, and, according to reports, the two decided it was best if he left the Gators.
“I learned from it the first time, it’s behind me and I won’t make that mistake again,” Leonard said. “So I knew coming in I had a clean slate and I want to keep it that way.”
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Leonard is battling Wesley Samuels, Illinois transfer London Davis and Je-Marc Sears to be the starter at tight end.
Similarly, running back Darion Hall, who was suspended indefinitely at Miami, has shuffled into a crowded backfield. Chris Robinson, who was dismissed from Kansas, is trying to land a role with the cornerbacks. He joins defensive back Joe Johnson, who was kicked off the team at Marshall last August.
When FBS players transfer to Football Championship Subdivision schools, such as TSU, there can be an immediate impact since they don’t have to sit out a year.
“You always look for talented guys who can help your program,” Reed said. “All of those FBS transfers are guys who have three or more years of eligibility left. They’re not guys with two years or one year. We want guys who are going to come in and be a part of the Tiger family. We don’t want guys who come in and make this a pit stop to the next level.”