Of the major sports leagues, the NFL’s All-Star game is arguably the most maligned, owing to the fact it’s difficult to stage an even remotely competitive showcase without risking injury. Which is why this year’s Pro Bowl will take on a new format, with a skills competition and non-contact flag football tournament substituting for a traditional game. Regardless, receiving Pro Bowl recognition is still a major accomplishment, being acknowledged by fans and peers as one of the league’s top performers.
While being invited to Vegas for a glorified exhibition may not mean much to Tom Brady (who usually finds an excuse not to play), for first-time honorees like Commanders DB Jeremy Reaves, it’s everything, the culmination of years of hard work and determination. Upon learning he’d made the Pro Bowl as a starting special-teamer for the NFC, the 26-year-old broke down in tears, overcome with emotion at achieving a level of respect and admiration that, at certain points in his career, seemed improbable, bordering on impossible.
To say Reaves has faced adversity along his path to NFL relevance would be a massive understatement. A two-star high-school prospect, Reaves garnered minimal recruiting interest, spending four years at South Alabama before going undrafted in 2018. Since then, Reaves has been cut and re-signed five times, spending most of his Commanders tenure on the practice squad until this year, with 2022 marking the first time in five NFL seasons he made the team out of training camp. While fighting and clawing to keep his NFL dream alive, Reaves suffered the greatest heartbreak of his life, losing his mother and biggest supporter, Rose, last Thanksgiving.
“You earned it,” said coach Ron Rivera while delivering the news that Reaves would be joining Commanders teammates Tress Way, Terry McLaurin and Jonathan Allen at February’s Pro Bowl. “I know your mom would be proud.”
As a specialist, Reaves’ impact is hard to quantify relative to other positions, though he’s been an effective gunner this season, contributing 17 tackles while anchoring Washington’s special teams unit. While the NFL can be a ruthless crucible at times, as cutthroat and cold as any professional sports league we have, it’s also full of success stories like Reaves, gritty overachievers who, even amid constant rejection, never stopped believing in their potential for greatness.