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Pitt RB Desmond Reid Doesn’t Let Height Hold Back His Dreams

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Pitt running back Desmond Reid.

Raphael Williams smiles a lot. Well, I can’t say for certain, but he smiles a lot when talking about football. He smiled as he talked about new Pitt offensive coordinator Kade Bell (an offensive guru, in Williams’ words), and he smiled even more deeply when talking about his opportunity to play Power Five football.

But I don’t know if Williams smiled any wider than he did when he was talking about Desmond Reid.

“We got Lil’ Des back there,” Williams said with a smile earlier this month at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “He runs real hard. So, any chance I can get the ball, I can (run the ball), but he normally handles that part.”

Lil’ Des is Desmond Reid — a 5-foot-8, 170-pound running back who transferred in from Western Carolina. And Lil’ Des is used to being doubted because of his size. He’s not the biggest guy, obviously, but that’s never been something that’s held him back.

“I’ve been hearing that since I was young,” Reid said earlier this month at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I like to work when nobody else is working. I don’t even like to let people see me working, so I’ll keep that in my head. That’s what pushes me to be a better player and person.”

Reid wanted to go Power Five out of high school, as all recruits do, but his height and weight held him back a bit. He had some offers, nothing major, and it was Bell’s Western Carolina offense that stood out then.

Reid was originally a lowly-recruited three-star out of Miramar High School in 2022, and he selected Western Carolina over South Dakota, FAMU, FAU and Tusculum. In two seasons at WCU, he racked up 250 carries for 1,723 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns — adding 42 receptions for 495 yards and another score.

He’s coming off back-to-back 800-yard seasons at Western Carolina and was awarded the 2022 SoCon Freshman of the Year honors.

As a sophomore in 2023, playing in just eight games, Reid was one of the best running backs in all of the FCS. He was elusive, forcing 40 missed tackles on just 131 carries, but he also racked up 536 yards after contact (4.39 YAC/attempt). He was an explosive home run hitter, too, racking up 30 runs of 10+ yards and 18 runs of 15+ yards.

Reid was wildly successful in Bell’s offense over the last two seasons without being a bell-cow back who had to carry the ball 25 times a game (although he proved capable of doing so, too).

“Kade, he’s a pass guy, he likes to pass the ball, but a lot of the teams we played liked to drop eight, so he likes to get his playmakers the ball,” Reid said. “So, he does anything to do that. So, having a good run game really helps the pass because he likes to get 1-on-1 situations.

“That was why the offense was really successful last year. A lot of teams were playing with three safeties, three down linemen and three linebackers, so we did really good running the ball. So, bringing the offense here, we’re trying to make the defense have to think a lot; that’s why the offense is really good. By us going fast, it kinda messes with their head.”

Bell likes his playmakers to be fast. Reid is very, very fast. Bell likes to scheme his playmakers open. Reid is already able to get open coming out of the backfield (comparing himself to 49ers star Christian McCaffrey because of his versatility). It’s a near-seamless fit. It’s that sort of relationship that initially made Reid decide to go to Western Carolina.

And when he decided to leave WCU after last season, the plan was to go to as high a level as possible — all the way up the Power Five. He wanted to put himself in the best possible position to have success and showcase his ability for the next level to see.

It worked out well that Bell wound up at Pitt, and while the relationship with new running backs coach Lindsey Lamar is still pretty fresh, it’s another good fit. Bell and Lamar work closely together, and Lamar is another former player who had to deal with the doubt of being “undersized.”

“(Lamar is) a smaller guy also, so he knows how the size is, he knows what that comes with,” Reid said. “He’s a family guy, so he likes to make sure we’re all good. We haven’t really got there yet, but we’re getting there.”

The offense as a whole is getting there. It’s not just the running backs working with Lamar. It’s an entirely new offensive coaching staff teaching a brand-new offense — an offense that is night and day from what the current roster is used to. It’s an adjustment period, and the spring session will be pivotal in hitting the ground running.

It doesn’t hurt that there are a handful of former WCU assistants and a handful of former WCU stars to help the transition either.

“I like teaching people,” Reid said. “I like coaching — I have a little brother; I like coaching him. But that brings us together, so that’s a real good thing. We’re all just trying to get closer.”

Reid, Williams and Censere Lee are able to serve as the teachers when the coaches aren’t around. When the skill players get together and throw with the quarterbacks on Saturday nights, it helps to have a couple of guys who know what to expect and what Bell expects from his players. It’s not a complex offense, but it’s certainly new.

There’s going to be a learning curve throughout the early days of spring, but the end goal is clear even now. Play fast, score faster.

“A lot of points,” Reid said. “We’re trying to put up 50 a game, that’s the goal. We’re trying to score whenever we want to — even in the fourth quarter, we can be up by 50, we’re still trying to score. So, just expect a lot of points to be on the scoreboard.”

It remains to be seen exactly what Reid’s role in the offense will be, likely in tandem with Rodney Hammond Jr. and Derrick Davis Jr., but his progression this spring will be interesting to follow.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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