October 5, 2022

Hall of Fame Profile: Fred Reid

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Fred Reid (32) runs the ball against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' defense during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Firday, August 26th, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

The Winnipeg Football Club have officially welcomed three new members to its Hall of Fame – Fred Reid and Gavin Walls as players, and former club president Lynn Bishop – with the trio to be saluted at halftime this Saturday. This is the first of our profiles on the new inductees.

There are a million ‘right-place/right-time’ tales in professional sports and every single one of them has unique details which makes it so compelling.

And Fred Reid’s story – how he was first recognized by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before becoming a hall of fame player – might just trump all of them.

A running back/returner during his days at Mississippi State, Reid got his first pro look with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. Released by the Bucs, he then spent the 2006 season in the now-defunct American Indoor Football Association with the Mississippi Mudcats.

By the spring of 2007, he was back at Mississippi State working out at the Bulldogs training facility when he came across another of the school’s alumni doing the same to get ready for his season: Barrin Simpson, then the Blue Bombers’ star middle linebacker.

And – ta-da! – a connection was made.

“It’s funny looking back at it now,” said Reid in a recent conversation with from the offices of the Ottawa RedBlacks, where he is in his first season as the club’s running backs coach. “If I wouldn’t have seen Barrin in the weight room when I was back at Mississippi State all those years ago who knows what would have happened.”

“To be honest with you, probably none of this would have been possible without that. He made everything happen by making a phone call to Brendan Taman (then the Blue Bombers GM), who is actually here in Ottawa with me now. The Blue Bombers ended up signing me and the rest is history. I appreciate Barrin to this day for that.”

Signed as depth behind future hall of fame tailback Charles Roberts and for his skills as a kick returner – he was the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading returner when he finished school – Reid arrived in Winnipeg with a lot of questions. The first, naturally, was ‘where the heck am I?’

“That was definitely the reaction,” Reid said with a chuckle. “That was my first time in Canada, and I was a long, long way from home.

“I didn’t know what to expect but looking back now Winnipeg was so good to me from start to finish when I was there, just having great people around as far as coaches and teammates… the whole community just made it easy for me to make that transition. It was awesome.”

Reid started two games for an injured Roberts in 2007 – rushing for an impressive 196 yards and two TDs – and became the club’s feature back when Roberts was traded to the B.C. Lions after the Labour Day Classic in 2008.

Reid then led the club in rushing in each of the next four seasons, including back-to-back 1K years with 1,371 yards in 2009 and 1,396 yards in 2010 – the 2010 total leading the league and earning him a spot on the CFL All-Star Team.

“One thing I had in mind was to just work my butt off when I got there,” Reid said. “Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, but I wanted to make sure I worked my butt off so I could stick. I just didn’t want to go home, especially after my experience with the Bucs and getting sent home. That made me even more hungry and being behind Charles really helped me learn.”

One of the highlights of Reid’s career came on August 21, 2009, when he set a club record with 260 yards rushing on 26 carries. That total ranks third all-time behind Ronnie Stewart of the Ottawa Rough Riders (287 in 1960) and George Reed of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (268 in 1965).

“I had some great games in Winnipeg, but rushing for 260? That doesn’t happen all the time,” he said. “That was definitely a highlight in my career that I’ll remember for a long time. I think that record will stand for a long time.

“We started off hot running the ball and Coach (Mike) Kelly said he was just going to keep feeding me the ball. It was just one of those nights. We started off well and we’re still running the ball at the end. Even Yvenson Bernard had over 100 yards in that game. We were both rolling in that game.

“I could have had the CFL record, too. I got hurt a bit and came back in a play earlier than allowed and the penalty wiped away another long run.”

Reid rushed for 759 yards in 2011 but was released the following winter. He owned and operated Gigi’s Cupcakes for five years after his playing days and got the coaching bug at the high school level not long after.

“I got a call from a childhood friend who was coaching at my alma mater – King High School – and he asked him to come help out with the running backs. I loved working with the kids and after that a head coaching position opened up not too far from when I went to high school. I didn’t think I was going to get it because I only had one year of coaching under my belt, but I did get it. I love it still.

“It all comes back to that day training at Mississippi State. If it wasn’t for Barrin speaking to me, I don’t know if any of this would have been possible for me. I’m not sure I would have even played again if it wasn’t for him. I was just waiting on another phone call from an NFL team and never got it. The Arena thing wasn’t working out for me. Him doing it gave me another life in football. I’ve met some good people that have given me opportunities like this, including here in Ottawa.”