Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Joe Reding: LSU football was "the greatest experience"

    (Third of three parts)
    He was at LSU from the fall of 1964 until his graduation in the spring of 1969, and Joe Reding calls being part of the LSU football program "the greatest experience of my life. They treated us so well."
LSU football, program photo
    It is an example of his athletic ability, his strength and good feet, that he was able to go from running back and linebacker in high school to the offensive line in college.
    He gained weight before his freshman season -- perhaps a factor in limiting his shot put potential that spring -- and was at 220 pounds when he reported to training camp in August.
    With only upperclassmen eligible for varsity ball in NCAA Division I at the time, he played on the freshman team in 1964, a four-game schedule, and practicing against the varsity, he learned something.
    "There was no way a freshman could ever have played on varsity then anyway," he said. "There was such a gap between the freshmen and the guys who had been there a year or more. It's not like today where kids come out of high school and they're All-Americans as freshmen. In those days, a freshman wouldn't have a prayer in hell of playing."
    By spring practice of 1965, he was down to between 195 and 200 pounds and in line to play at guard. He did not think he would redshirt; most D-I linemen then did sit out one year.
    "I was hard as a rock, fast, quick," he said. "I was one of the very few people that lifted weights regularly."
    But then ... the first knee injury. So it was a redshirt year and a year of rehabbing the knee. LSU wound up the '65 season by upsetting Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl -- a memorable game -- and Joe was merely a spectator.
    He played in 1966, '67 and '68. As in high school, he was only on a couple of very good teams, but not championship teams.
    The Tigers were 5-4-1 (3-3 in the SEC) in his sophomore season, a difficult year in which experienced quarterback Nelson Stokley was hurt during the second game (knee injury, out for the year). LSU led Rice 15-7 in that game and lost 17-15, and then struggled to a 3-4-1 record until two victories at the end.
    It was the worst record in the first 12 years of Charlie McClendon's LSU head coaching tenure.
A favorite photo -- Page One, Baton Rouge Morning
 Advocate, coming home from a victory at Florida.
    Reding was one of three alternating "messenger" guards -- bringing in play calls from the sideline to the huddle -- until an offensive-line shuffle midway in the season made him a starter ... for good. He wound up starting the last 28 games of his career -- the last season at tackle.
    With LSU shy of experience at the position, "they [the coaches] asked me during the off-season (after the '67 season) to switch to tackle."  
     Fine, but unlike high school, when he usually was one of the biggest players on the field, at LSU he played at 6-foot-1, 210-215 pounds, and "I was one of the smallest starting offensive linemen in the SEC."
    The Tigers were 7-3-1 (3-2-1 SEC) and 8-3 (4-2) the next two seasons and bowl winners each time -- the Sugar Bowl (20-13 vs. Wyoming) on Jan. 1, 1968, and the first Peach Bowl at Grant Field in Atlanta (31-27 vs. Florida State in the rain). 

    The down side: In his three varsity seasons, the Tigers were 0-5-1 combined against Alabama and Ole Miss.
    As a senior, Reding was a co-captain for the season's sixth game, a 10-7 victory against TCU at Tiger Stadium. The other co-captain that night: tight end Robert Hamlett, his old teammate (a year younger) at Bossier High.
    Reding was not the star in college he had been in high school, and his size kept him from a pro football career. But no matter; he loved the program.
    "I got to play with some great football players," he said.
    And this: "They treated the players so well, especially the married players. They treated us like family. It was unbelievable.
    "They paid for everything. When we had the baby (Kathy), they paid for the baby expenses, baby food." And there was a place where the married players could go "and stock up on food -- steaks, meat, all sorts of food."
    Plus, he added, players were lined up with summer jobs -- and no gimmes there: "They were union jobs, hard work -- pipefitting, offshore jobs. And those paid well."
    And Joe did not even mention game tickets. It was common knowledge that LSU players could sell their two or four games tickets for whatever they could get for them -- no NCAA rules against that then (the NCAA put a stop to it a few years later). As now, LSU game tickets were much in demand, so there was money to be made.
    Hearing these things, I asked Joe: Was this within the rules?
    "Who knows," he answered. "They did it."
     As for McClendon -- the folksy country boy who lasted longer than any LSU head coach (18 years) and was so often criticized -- Reding said, "Coach Mac was just great to me.
    "I could not have been treated any better. It was the best five years of my life [in athletics]."
     He remembers this, too, about wearing jersey No. 78.
    "I think I have a unique position at LSU," he pointed out. "The guy who wore that number before me, George Rice, was a first-team All-American [defensive tackle]. The guy who wore it after me, Ronnie Estay, was a first-team All-American."  
    Rice was a huge man, out of Istrouma (like Cannon), who went on to play several seasons with the Houston Oilers (also like Cannon). He was a practice opponent for Reding and "he hit me with a forearm, and I have never been hit as hard in my life. And then he laughed at me."
    And when Joe's right knee buckled and was torn up in a 2-on-1 blocking drill in the spring of 1965, the player who drove him to the ground: George Rice.
    His playing days finished, his degree earned, he moved into coaching, back home in Bossier City. He and David Smith were named assistant coaches at Parkway, which was converting from a junior high school to a high school by adding a sophomore-only class in 1969.
    The head coach was Freddy Shewmake, who had been Reding's coach in kids' baseball for several years in the late 1950s/early 1960s.
    After one year, Reding moved to the Airline coaching staff. Jack Gray was the head coach and had one of the area's best programs (state champions in 1967, the school's fourth year). 
    Reding was the offensive line coach for five years, the last two with M.D. Ray as head coach. The highlight was a district championship team in 1972, with a superb passing game (with Steve Haynes at quarterback) and an 11-3 record that ended with a tough 6-0 loss to Neville (Monroe) in the Class AAAA state finals.
    That was a bad-luck night for Airline -- the game was played on Neville's field in a downpour on a soaked, slippery field that was perfect for the well-coached, defensive-minded Neville team.           
    Reding remembers that Vikings team as much for its  intelligence as its ability. "Great group of kids, a lot of very smart, disciplined kids," he said.
    "I loved coaching," Reding said. "I was like a big kid. I had so much fun with those kids. I'd wrestle with them, run with them, lift weights with them."
    Billy Don Maples remembers the friendship with the Redings -- pool parties and camping trips.
    "Our families used to visit a lot," he said. "Karen's parents lived in Broadmoor (in Shreveport) and they had an indoor pool. We'd go there and swim after games, and we have a good time."
    And Maples also recalls the long hours the Airline staff put in, especially Reding.
    "Jack [Gray] was known for long practices, 3-4 hours; he kept us out there," Maples said. "Then on weekends, we'd be hours breaking down films. Joe would do that, then he go work at Roadway, loading and unloading trucks."
    He'd worked at the freight company even in his high school days and while coaching, Reding concurs, "I worked some nights, and weekends. I'd go work from 5 p.m. Sunday to 1:30 a.m., then be at school the next morning."
    The managers at the freight company were impressed with his strength and work habits, and in 1974, one manager suggested to Reding that he come to work there full-time.
    Joe told him he didn't want to load and unload freight his whole life. No, the manager assured him; he meant for Joe to learn a management position.
    Reding said he talked with Karen about it, and she was open to his decision. He decided to leave Airline as soon as the '74 football team was eliminated from the playoffs.
    So on the Monday after a first-round loss, Joe Reding moved into a new career and "I tripled my salary starting that day."
    Thus began the freight company journey -- one move after another, one company after another, one advancement after another, from assistant terminal manager to terminal manager, to company executive.
    And in 2005, back home to Louisiana -- downstate, near LSU.

     The long, relentless hours the jobs required were part of his life; he always had had the desire to work, work, work. 
     The admittedly reticent young man grew into a sure-of-himself speaker at company gatherings, and -- I'll vouch for this -- he now is a free talker and story-spinner.
     He remains a Tigers fan, but attending games is more of a chore now -- he hasn't been to a Tiger Stadium game in three years -- "and it's easier to sit in my recliner at home and watch."
    He's not the modern communicator -- seldom uses the computer now that he's no longer working; the only cellphone he has is the old flip phone sort he bought after Katrina hit -- when phone lines were out -- and keeps in his car for emergency use only. So no texting, no messaging, no Internet.
    There was a special honor at Bossier High in 2010 when he, Dick and their father were inducted into the school's athletics Hall of Fame -- a Reding triple play. He returned the next year as featured speaker when, among others, Neal Prather was inducted.
     Joe's weight ballooned to 240 a few years ago and a knee surgery and major back pain convinced him it was time to get back in shape.
    He was at 175 a year ago and is 180 now, and "I go to the gym six days a week when possible and have stayed in great shape for a 70-year-old. ... I still push the younger guys there."
    And those younger guys probably don't want to challenge him to a shot-putting contest. Even Billy Cannon was no match for him.


  1. From James Bustillo: Great series about a guy (along with Neal Prather) that I admired quite a bit throughout high school. Both of them took great pleasure running right over me for several years in a row. Jesuit opened its season with Bossier most every year back then.

  2. This was a real nice series on a one of the great players for those of us of a certain age. I sent the article on to Coot Lambert who came to LSU with Joe's class. He was impressed.Looking at some of the responses takes me back. Wayne Sessions told me he was quitting the team to go to dental school and I thought he was crazy.