NORMAN — Jaz Reynolds insists he’s not the same person he was two years ago this week, when he was indefinitely suspended from Oklahoma’s football team along with three other players.
“It’s pretty funny that today is Cinco de Mayo,” Reynolds said Monday. “This time two years ago is the day I found out I was off the team.”
Reynolds had a difficult collegiate career, but much of it was brought on by himself.
During his true freshman season, he tweeted insensitive comments about a gunman on the University of Texas campus and redshirted that year. He served a one-game suspension for violating team rules as a sophomore in 2011, when he was OU’s third-leading receiver with 41 receptions, 715 yards and five touchdowns.
Then in May 2012, Reynolds was removed from his scholarship and sent home to Houston without a clear idea on what his future would hold. He was ultimately reinstated, but didn’t play at all his junior season. As a senior, he caught 14 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown.
Reynolds spoke at length in a Monday telephone interview with The Oklahoman about his collegiate career, his NFL prospects and how he’s grown up since that indefinite suspension.
Q: What are you expecting this week?
A: I like to have low expectations, just so I won’t get myself too worked up. I just hope for an opportunity right now. If I was to get drafted, that’s cool with me. If I wasn’t, that’s fine too. Right now I just wanna get picked up by a team so I can get a shot and show teams what I’ve got.
What was the last season like for you?
It was a humbling experience, because obviously I wasn’t gonna have the role I had the year before (in 2011), being a big part of the offense, just because of the things I did. I wasn’t gonna be given that opportunity, so I had to deal with that. I got much less snaps than I was used to, but I had to capitalize on the snaps I did get. When I was on the field, I just had to go hard. I had to get over the fact that I wasn’t gonna get those snaps because other guys were playing way better than me. It just taught me that when I’m out there, I’ve gotta give 110 percent because you might have to come out the very next play, and you don’t know when you’ll be back in. I had to remember to not get selfish and get caught up in, “Oh man, I’m not getting the ball all that much.” I could get the key block for Brennan (Clay) to run for a touchdown, and I’m just as big a part of the play as Brennan’s touchdown is. Doing little things. Learning how to work without the ball.
It seems like that experience could be really good for a guy entering the NFL, where you’ll be a rookie and playing time might be hard to come by at first.
It helps me on and off the field, believe it or not. I’ve been on SportsCenter, and when you are, people treat you a certain way. And when you aren’t on there, they do treat you differently. I just had to learn stuff like that. In the NFL, my rookie year, I hope I get the ball a lot — who doesn’t? — but if I was to get in the same situation and I’m playing special teams, I’m comfortable with being on the field and being a football player, not just a receiver. That’s one thing everybody should have to go through — I mean, I don’t wish it on anybody — but if you went through it, you’ll learn a lot. And on the next level, if you’re not the starting guy or the million-dollar man, you have to do special teams. You have to do everything just to stay on the team and have a job. My whole senior season really set me up for me to have my mind right for my rookie year and my career, and hopefully it’s a long one.
Do you feel like you’re a different person than you were two years ago?
(Laughs) Oh, definitely. I had a publicized maturation process. Everybody has to figure out when you grow up, but mine was in the newspaper. Two years ago, I was out there pretty much reckless. I thought all I had to do was go out there and ball; “I can do whatever the hell I want,” you know? But you figure out how life works. It’s unfortunate it had to happen, but I’m glad that it did. I’m glad Coach Stoops gave me a chance to come back and straighten everything out before I left. He allowed me the chance to graduate, and I did in December. I really thank Coach Stoops for allowing me to come back to the team and set things straight.
Was there a point after the suspension when you thought you weren’t gonna get to come back?
It was about two months over that summer, then they let me know I would have the opportunity if there were more scholarships available and all that stuff. Coach gave me a shot, and I capitalized on it. I thank God for it. I’m so happy that he did let me come back, because I don’t know where I would’ve been if he wouldn’t.
Were you off scholarship that summer?
Yeah, I was at home with my mom. All I did was work out and come home, and help her around the house. Coach Norvell called me and said I was gonna be able to come back to camp, but I still wasn’t on scholarship during camp. Right before the season started, maybe a couple days before camp ended, they let me know I was back on. I didn’t really show much; I just told them, “Thank you,” but on the inside, I wanted to do a couple backflips and go dive on somebody. It felt good to know that everything was starting to get better.
A few days before the Sugar Bowl, you said you weren’t sure if you really deserved that chance. How humbling was the entire experience for you as a whole?
Oh yeah. (Stoops) didn’t have to do it. That’s the whole thing behind it. That’s why I feel like I shouldn’t have gotten it, is because he didn’t have to do it. That’s Coach Stoops for you. He’s a good coach, but he’s a better man. He understands that people make mistakes. I say the same thing to everybody, I’m just happy that Coach Stoops is who he is and gave me a second chance to come back, even though I didn’t deserve it. Honestly, that was the second time I’d been suspended. If I was to do that at any other school, I’m pretty sure they would’ve been done with me.
How much more difficult was all that considering that it did take place in the public eye?
For lack of a better word, it sucks. You have family and friends, and then your face is all over everywhere, so if I go out to the Olive Garden or something to get some food, and somebody sees me, they might look at me a certain way. I notice a lot of things. I’m a people watcher, so people look at me and see me. Usually somebody asks for an autograph or something, and a parent might turn their kids away. There were different kinds of things that happened. And with your family, it’s embarrassing for my mom and dad. They brag on me all the time when they’re at work and stuff, and then something like that happens. It’s terrible for them to have to go through it, too.
Is the suspension something you’ve had to answer for in talking with NFL people?
Yeah, they ask, and I’m just completely honest with them. If you leave anything out, I mean, these guys are trying to pay me a lot of money, so if you tell them something with a hole in it and they find something else out, you look untrustworthy. I told them exactly what happened, how everything went and how I came back. They’re pretty comfortable with it. They know I’m in a different place now. The guy that they will sign will not be the same guy that I was when I was on ESPN getting suspended. That won’t be the same person.