Summer 2024

49ers DB D.J. Reed trusts in Holy Spirit through winding journey to Super Bowl

No one ever thought he would be here. Cornerbacks who are 5-foot-9, 199 pounds, aren’t supposed to make it in the NFL. Yet here D.J. Reed is, at Super Bowl LIV as a member of the San Francisco 49ers secondary, having conquered every challenge yet in his football career.

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He will find himself on the field on Sunday in Miami on defense and special teams against the Kansas City Chiefs. And when he does, he can remember everything he’s been through and thank God, who was with him every step of the way.


Reed’s journey to the Super Bowl began in Bakersfield, Calif., as a young boy dreaming of playing in the NFL. He watched as his mother struggled through a divorce, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, all while working multiple jobs. He knew he had to make it to the NFL for her, but everywhere he turned, he was told he was too small.

With no Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school, Reed walked on at Fresno State in 2014, only to be told he wouldn’t receive a scholarship until at least his junior season. He knew he couldn’t stay. So he left Fresno and, through a mutual friend, connected with the defensive coordinator at Cerritos College, a junior college near Anaheim.

There, he found himself sleeping on couches, skipping meals and sharing two-bedroom apartments with seven teammates. Reed admitted in a 2018 article for that the doubts had crept in.

“What if you aren’t good enough? What if you are too small?”

Yet Reed persisted and earned the starting job. He was so impressive on the field that, despite his size, Kansas State offered him a scholarship. He had arrived at the top level of college football — but he wasn’t done.

Again, Reed won the starting job over an older player and began to turn heads almost immediately. He led the Big 12 with 19 passes defended. He was named the conference’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2016, and coaches voted him to the All-Big 12 first team.

He followed his breakout season with the Wildcats by improving the next season. He posted 47 tackles, four interceptions, nine pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in 2017. As a returner, he proved to be one of the most dangerous in the country.

Reed left Kansas State with a year of eligibility remaining, sights firmly set on the NFL. Again, despite his performance, he heard the whispers about his size. Reed slid to the fifth round, where the 49ers took a chance on him at pick No. 142.


Reed is now in his second year with San Francisco, playing a key reserve role in the secondary. He has yet to record an interception, but he does have 54 career tackles. Who knows what may be asked of him during Super Bowl LIV, but however much he plays and whichever team comes out on top, Reed knows who always has and always will sit on the throne.

“Whatever the situation is, I’m going to always worship and praise God,” Reed told Sports Spectrum this week. “That’s just what I’m going to do.”

He was certainly praising God as he watched his mother, Linda, defeat her health issues. Seeing his prayers answered helped strengthen his faith.

“I’ve been through a lot, I’ve seen my mom go through a lot. I’ve seen my mom beat Stage 3 breast cancer, I’ve seen her beat cardiovascular disease. And I genuinely prayed to God for [healing] to happen, I felt the Holy Spirit, and I obviously got my prayers answered. This was from an early age, and ever since then my faith has just been building.

“Whether it’s good or bad, whatever I go through, I always think of it as a lesson. [Even if] it’s bad, I always know God has something great in store, even when I can’t see it,” he said.

As Reed’s football career has taken him to the highest level, he knows his identity is not in the game. Football is just something he loves to do. It’s his Lord and Savior that he lives for and who has been with him every step of the way.

“God is stable,” Reed said. “He’s going to be there — good, bad, through whatever. Honestly, when I pray and especially when I cry, when I’m going through something, I feel the Holy Sprit more. So I would just tell [someone], if you’re going through something, it’s OK. Tough times don’t last forever. Just keep your faith, because that’s really all you have at the end of the day.”

Watch Reed’s full interview with Sports Spectrum here:


Super Bowl LIV kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

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