For about an hour Thursday afternoon at Dieruff High School, Andre Reed was the subject of an interesting Q-and-A with special Husky students chosen for the event as well as kids from other parts of the country who were able to join in via video conferencing.
Reed talked about his career, his determination to succeed, his emotions when finding out he was going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014, Colin Kaepernick and a variety of other topics.
He talked about how many hard hits he took as one of the game’s best all-time receivers and the vast number of concussions he suffered as someone who wasn’t afraid to go over the middle in an era when defensive backs could use crossing receivers as target practice.
It was an upbeat, positive session as the Dieruff graduate chose to come back to his alma mater when asked to participate in the Hall of Fame’s “Heart of a Hall of Famer” program, which brings the game’s all-time best closer to kids.
But it was when the national portion of the session was over and the video cameras were turned off that the most poignant moment came.
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That’s when Theresa Villano, a sports marketing manager and Reed’s girlfriend, stepped in front of the group in the Dieruff media center and reminded everyone — especially the students — of why Reed’s story is so special and why they needed to hear it and take it to heart.
“Andre came from freakin’ nothing,” she said emphatically. “That lady back there [Reed’s mother Joyce Reed-Ebling] had an abusive husband. He was an alcoholic. Andre had to pull his dad out of an Allentown bar at eight years old.
“He woke up to his dad, sleeping in a car, drunk, and hitting his mom. That might relate to some of you guys. Andre doesn’t always tell the story. Andre’s mom had to send him to a foster home. You look at him now and he has a street named after him and he’ s made it big. But he came from nothing. I know a lot of athletes and not one of them came from a privileged life. Think about it. This life you guys are living gives you grit, scrappiness.”
Villano’s brief, but passionate talk was intended to inspire kids to keep battling through the adversity the way her boyfriend did to make it to football’s biggest stage.
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“I have learned that a lot of you don’t have a life of peaches and cream,” she said, referring to the Dieruff students. “I know a lot of you have parents who don’t know what you’re doing. But you have the power in your heart and soul. You have the power in your own hands. Mom and dad might not be your role models.”
Later, Villano, who grew up in Alaska, said: “Life isn’t easy. But it’s the people who make the best out of it who are the most successful.”
Mike Mahkoul, Dieruff’s assistant principal who coordinated the event sponsored by the Hall of Fame, said the comments of Reed and Villano were meaningful for the 50 kids in attendance, many of them student-athletes. He said more than 60 percent of Dieruff students live below the poverty line and have far from idlyllic home lives.
“Andre coming back to talk about the character and qualities involved with attaining success was terrific and he also talked about the character and qualities involved with overcoming struggles,” Mahkoul said. “That’s critical for our kids. We encourage them to believe in themselves and resiliency is such a critical component with the challenges they face day in, day out. We want to empower them and let them know they can conquer their struggles and get to the next level.”
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Mahkoul said he appreciated Villano giving the kids some “raw, unfiltered facts about Andre’s life that are not often told.”
“It showed tremendous courage on her part and graciousness on Andre’s behalf to allow her to tell those things about his life,” Mahkoul said. “That story hits home and resonates directly with a lot of our kids.”
Reed-Ebling, who told her story to the world in the NFL Films’ documentary “Andre Reed: Road to Canton,” just before he was inducted in 2014, didn’t mind Villano telling the family’s story.
“It’s all true,” she said. “It should make them appreciate how far Andre’s come even more.”
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Reed-Ebling and Villano both enjoy seeing him work with kids.
The Andre Reed Foundation has an annual summertime golf tournament at Lehigh Country Club that has raised more than $300,000 for the Allentown Boys and Girls Club.
Reed is also proud to be involved with his READ with Reed 83 program, which inspires kids to read at least 30 minutes every day.
“You can’t read, it’s difficult to do anything in life,” he said.
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He will be making a stop at another of his old stomping grounds on Thursday — downtown Kutztown — where the City Cuts Barbershop at 126 Main Street will hold a special event that will pay kids to read a book while getting a haircut.
Reed said he played football from age 7 to 37 and wouldn’t have had the chance to play without getting an education first.
He is thankful for the opportunity football gave him to attain his dreams, but said that it didn’t come without a lot of hard work and dedication.
“Quit has never been a word in my vocabulary,” he said. “Never quit, always work hard. You will never know what you can attain if you don’t work for it.”