Karen grew up an only child, raised by her mother and grandmother, so Ed and his brothers became everything to her — in her words, "my sons, my daddy, my brothers."

The family has experienced its share of pain, most notably two years ago, when Ed's younger brother, Brian, leaped to his death in the Mississippi River after an encounter with a local sheriff's deputy. But she dwells on the happy side.

"God is good," she said. "Blessing me with all them boys and then one of them is an NFL player. I couldn't believe it."

Saint Rose was a place with enough temptations that a boy could idle his life away.

And Reed seemed to be drifting off track when Ben Parquet, a longtime student advocate for the St. Charles Parish school system, got a hold of him. Parquet's wife, a middle school teacher, had spotted the boy's intelligence and charisma. Even then, Reed's athletic skills drew others to him. But he missed classes and rarely focused on his work.

"He was a mischievous kid but with a lot of potentials," said Parquet. "I saw him as a kid who could do something with his life. We just had to corral his energy and move it in a positive direction."

Parquet told Reed his talent would amount to nothing if he didn't become more serious. He would slap the teenager in the chest and say, "Hey man, I need your attention."

One afternoon, when Reed was still in middle school, Parquet took him up to Destrehan to watch a few athletic practices. He wanted to get him excited about something that lay ahead.

Reed moved up to the high school without completing middle school. He was too old to remain with the younger kids.

The switch didn't flip right away, but he was headed to the place where he'd find himself.

'Best athlete I've ever seen'

Sports were never the problem.

Destrehan has produced a string of NFL players, including receiver Damaris Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles and punter Mike Scifres of the San Diego Chargers (Reed swears he taught him to kick).

But to this day, the coaches haven't seen anything quite like Edward Reed. They get to cackling in a hurry as they let their minds wash back over the things they saw him do.

"He was the type of kid where if you gave him something, he could pick it up and do it right — right away," said Reed's track coach, Ulysses Frontha.

In football, he returned kicks as a freshman, played quarterback from the Wing-T formation as a sophomore, served as the team's kicker and still had time to earn player of the year honors as a defensive back. No matter where he lined up, he always knew what to do when the ball came near.

One time, Frontha and Reed's basketball coach, Charles Griffin, watched from the sidelines as Destrehan played rival South Lafourche. It was fourth down late in the game, and South Lafourche lined up to punt.

"Coach and I were like, 'I hope they don't punt this to Ed Reed, because he's going to bring it back,' " Griffin recalled. Sure enough, Reed streaked by them seconds later, on his way to the winning touchdown. He would tell the coaches later that he heard their sideline conversation and didn't want to disappoint.

"That was Ed Reed," Griffin said. "He could do things other people couldn't do."

He always showed up late for basketball because the season overlapped with football. But he started from the minute he arrived, and he was so good that he could ruin practice drills by stealing the ball over and over.