NORMAN — Monrina Reed walked into St. Thomas More Catholic Church a few months back. She needed help with her rent.
She and her husband have two small children. Monrina had been sick, unable to work, and even then who would take care of the kids? Her husband's check brings in $616 a month. Their rent and electric bill averaged $630 a month.
You do the math.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was willing to help. The volunteer organization is the world's most distinguished friend of the poor, helping the needy since 1833.
But a de Paul member first checked with the OU athletic department and was asked to refrain from helping. Aiding Monrina Reed with her rent was a possible violation of NCAA rules.
Monrina's husband is Mike Reed, a Sooner linebacker.
This is the shadowy underside of big-time college football. The sport of multimillion-dollar coaching contracts and multimillion-dollar bowl payouts and multimillion-dollar television deals, is built upon the backs of people like Mike Reed, who borrows soap from neighbors to take a shower and speed-trains 23-month-old daughter Makhya on the potty because he can't afford the Pampers and who slept on the floor of their west Norman apartment until his parents came from Florida in September and scrounged enough money to buy some second-hand furniture.
But Mike Reed's life is not a story of darkness. It is a story of light.
Mike Reed is in Oklahoma chasing two dreams. The football, you know about it. He wants to play on Sundays. Wants to be an NFL linebacker.
The other dream is less glamorous but richer in spirit. Mike Reed wants to be a father to his children and a husband to his wife.
In a sport filled with players, including Mike Reed himself not so long ago, who have children living hundreds of miles away, Reed has decided he will be absent no more.
So with a ready smile and a cheery heart, he lives in virtual poverty with Monrina and Makhya and 3-year-old Mike Jr.
"It's hard for me to live without 'em,” Reed said. "I need to see they're OK. I don't need to hear it over the phone.
"If we're going to struggle, we're going to struggle together.”
Mike Reed makes us ask: Who's the real all-American?
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Eddie and Willie Mae Reed raised their grandson. He calls them his parents. They raised him to be God-fearing. Raised him to be a family man.
Mike Reed hasn't always listened. While in a California junior college, Reed was arrested for possession of stolen property and spent 30 days in jail. Monrina was back in Florida with Mike Jr.
But good raising usually takes. It took to Mike Reed.
Reed transferred to a different school, stayed out of trouble and became one of the nation's top recruits. He signed with OU because of defensive coordinator Brent Venables and the Sooner linebacking tradition.
And last spring, after spending a semester alone at OU, Reed heeded the words of Willie Mae.
"I raised him that you've got your children and you love the mom,” Willie Mae Reed said.
"They were talking about shacking up. Marriage is honorable. You be married, and God will bless you.”
So in May, Mike and Monrina married, and he brought his family to Oklahoma.
Venables wasn't thrilled when he found out. Venables knew what such a load could mean, but what kind of system encourages a man to be apart from his family?
"He's a terrific person,” Venables said. "The way he has handled himself, you have so much respect for him.
"The biggest issue for him, he's been overwhelmed. A lot on his mind. Slowed his transition here. He came with a lot on his plate.”
You'd be overwhelmed, too, if your wife was pregnant and had an appendectomy and there was no money to feed your kids.
Reed was supposed to be the next Torrance Marshall, the next Lance Mitchell. Both linebackers came to OU from junior college, became stars and went on to the NFL.
Reed was more highly touted than either. Some rated him the No. 2 juco player in America last year. Most wrote him in as the starting middle 'backer as soon as he hit campus last January.
Reed is a monster physically; 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, good speed. Delivers vicious hits.
But Reed didn't pick up the defensive calls so quickly. And middle linebacker Curtis Lofton exploded into the 2007 Big 12 defensive player of the year.
Monrina was sick all summer and eventually hospitalized, so Reed missed workouts, taking care of his children. Monrina had surgery in October. It all became too much for Reed to carry.
"She was going through hell,” Reed said of Monrina. "I had to stay home with them.”
OU dropped Reed's class load from 15 hours to six, making him ineligible to practice or play. He hadn't been playing anyway.
"I've talked to Coach V about that,” Reed said. "I'm sure he felt he's not comfortable with me in there. In meetings, he asked me questions, and I had to think too long. You have to be sharper than I was.”
Reed is not a knucklehead. If he was, he'd have been long gone. Coaches have little patience for a guy who can't make it to summer workouts, much less practice. They would have run off Reed if they didn't believe he was a good person.