He plans to go through spring practice and crack the lineup next autumn, though middle linebacker seems safely taken unless Lofton turns pro. "I just hope he gets a chance to play football, see what he's got,” said Eddie Reed, Mike's grandfather. "Play in one of those big games at Oklahoma. He's trying to fulfill his dream.” But how will 2008 be any easier than 2007? • • • OU asked the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to hold off on helping the Reeds while it explored other avenues. It would not have been an NCAA violation for the church to help the Reeds. Former NCAA investigator Brent Clark, now a Norman lawyer, cited Section 16.11.2 of the NCAA manual, which addresses non-permissible extra benefits. The rule prohibits extra benefits from school employees or representatives of schools' athletic interests. Neither describes the de Paul society, which began helping people before Amos Alonzo Stagg was born, much less Mike Reed. OU said no because most schools live in fear of violating NCAA rules; the answer is no before the question is asked. The Sooners, particularly, are gun-shy, because of recent sanctions after Rhett Bomar and J.D. Quinn were paid by Big Red Sports & Imports for work they did not do.
Last August, Houston high school player Herman Mitchell, who had committed to OU, was murdered. A Sooner fan in Houston began raising funds to help with funeral expenses, but the NCAA warned OU that could be a rules violation. OU asked for a waiver and was allowed to administer a fund that could provide the family up to $10,000.
OU compliance director Jason Leonard said the school would have asked the NCAA for a waiver to help Reed, had other options not materialized.
The department steered Reed toward a little relief. Federal grants provide him $4,300 a year, plus a $500 clothing allowance out of a student-athlete special assistance fund. OU also had Reed apply for food stamps.
There's the $616 monthly scholarship check. His grandparents pay his car insurance and telephone bill and send $60 every two weeks to help out.
"I don't look for too much more help than I'm getting,” Reed said. "They're my responsibility. They're my kids. I love 'em to death. And my parents do it because they love us.
"I don't get down on the system. We're going to be all right regardless.”
Eddie and Willie Mae Reed are not affluent people. Eddie, 61, drives a truck for the city of Vero Beach, Fla. Willie Mae, 59, is disabled.
"We promised him if he would do the right thing, get his education, we'll go all the way, even if we have to borrow money,” Willie Mae said.
Reed says he's 24 hours shy of his sociology degree and hopes to graduate next December.
OU could apply for an extra year of eligibility for Reed; if granted, he says he would start working on a master's degree.
"I hope they continue to weather the storm they're going through financially,” said Willie Mae. "He keeps a positive attitude. He's never negative. I just love that so much.
"He told me, as long as he can get his education, take care of his wife and children, me and his granddaddy, that's the most important thing. That makes me feel good.”
• • •
Mike and Monrina were high school sweethearts in Vero Beach.
Monrina was raised by her father; her mother was a junkie and now is in prison.
Mike Reed never knew his father. His mother wasn't around much; he went to live with his grandparents in second grade.
"When I was a little boy, I always wanted my dad in my life,” Reed said. "I didn't know he didn't want to see me. I figured that out, it hurt me.
"With my kids, I never want them to feel I'm neglecting them.”
The Reeds stay broke. They borrow a little money here or there. They scrimp. They do without. They endure. Reed could obtain permission to work while on scholarship, but lack of time already has hindered his football hopes, with school and weight-room workouts and taking care of two little kids and a pregnant wife who is better but still not well.
There are no easy answers for Mike Reed.
"We made some decisions that we have to accept responsibility for,” Reed said.
"I don't ever think about sendin' 'em back. I've been without 'em too much. I wanted us to be together.”
He still holds that football dream. Monrina said her husband won't be disappointed if his football career falls flat, but you don't really believe her.
He talks about all the obstacles. Not making his ACT scores out of high school. The trouble in California. His family being sick. Being in Oklahoma a full year without even getting to play.
"I just want to go out there and have a super season,” Reed said. "Have a great year on the field.”
Monrina doesn't dream so much. In this sparse apartment 1,500 miles from home, with little to her name and no prospects for quick relief, she says she has what she wants.
"I have us,” said Monrina Reed. "My kids being with their father every day. This is what makes me happy. We don't have much, but we have us.”