A test of the mind, body and spirit:
How a North Carolina A&T linebacker tackles it all
Text: Will Brown
The only undersized part of Julius Reynolds is his stature. His outsized faith, time management, thirst for learning, compassion for his community and the bonds he has forged with his teammates on the North Carolina A&T football team are larger than life. But it’s his size that may have ordered his steps from a small Florida town to one of the biggest stages in black college football.
This spring, the 5-foot-9-inch linebacker will earn his master’s degree in biomedical engineering. He will leave Greensboro with three national championships, two degrees and one clear vision for his future: Becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
“Wherever God decides to place me after I have completed my medical education, my fellowships, that’s the goal,” Reynolds said. “To be in my career, doing a good job, helping people, being an active force for good for the athletic, geriatric, pediatric and the community, overall, that I am serving.”
Linebackers are taught to locate the football, find an angle and not deviate from it. Reynolds has taken that approach to his studies, graduating from high school early, finishing college in three and half years and finishing his master’s degree before his 22nd birthday. He is believed to be the first North Carolina A&T football player to also serve as a teacher’s assistant, according to a December 2018 story published on MEACSports.com.
Reynolds credits his father, former NFL player Ricky Reynolds, with cultivating his love of sports and his mother, Pamela Carr, for instilling a love of learning. Carr owned and operated the Reynolds Child Development Center in Tampa before moving to Wilmington, N. C. when Julius was 12.
Born in Titusville, Fla., in May 1997, Julius was adopted from birth by Reynolds and Carr. At the time, Reynolds had completed his tenth season in the NFL with the New England Patriots and returned to Tampa, Fla., where he played for most of his career.
“They did such a great job of raising me,” Julius Reynolds said of his parents. “I never felt out of place. If they hadn’t told me, I would never have known.”
The ability to earn two degrees in four and a half years is something Reynolds attributes to his mother. She still owns a daycare in Wilmington and has made her life’s work to educate others. Her strong encouragement led Reynolds to take Advanced Placement courses in high school as well as dual-enrollment classes at Cape Fear Community College. Doing so allowed him to walk into A&T prepared for the academic rigor of college, enroll as a second semester freshman despite being 17, and an opportunity to earn a second degree with his football scholarship.
“That woman right there is a force of education power” Reynolds said. “She is all about education . . . She loves educating people. She began to notice I was smart before I noticed I was smart. As we were growing up and I was in high school, she put me through advanced courses, I took classes at community college. I did a lot of things I didn’t want to do at the time — that I didn’t see how they were going to benefit me — and she was setting me up for the success that everyone sees now.”
A&T’s success on the football field drew national attention. In Reynolds’ four seasons on the gridiron the team won at least nine games every season, three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships and won the nationally televised Celebration Bowl three times.
Reynolds played in 45 collegiate games, racking up 116 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss. Despite being undersized at 5-foot-9 and 230 pounds, he produced five sacks and recovered four fumbles. He produced two interceptions, including one in a 37-20 win over Norfolk State in his final home game.
Juggling postgraduate coursework and playing Division I football is challenging enough. But Reynolds added a degree of difficulty to the task by becoming a teacher’s assistant. His reasoning was simple — he wanted to earn some cash and make his medical school application more competitive.
Doing so tested his mind, body and spirit. Reynolds, like any good defense, was bent, but not broken.
“It gets dark a few times. You hit a few tunnels sometimes. When I put a lot of stuff on my plate I say ‘Can I handle this?’ I talk to my mom. I talk to my dad. I talk to everyone who supports me. My girlfriend and her parents, they are big Aggies, and they love me. I talk to everyone. And, of course, I talk to God. He has reassured me that I am capable of undertaking anything my heart desires. My faith was built so strong as a kid. …Growing up, I have been around God. I have support everywhere I turn. I really have no choice but to succeed is the way God has set me up in life.”
Reynolds says it is God’s grace that has ordered his steps and purpose. It also gives him the unwavering confidence that while there are twists, turns and snares along his path, his steps are ordered.
Reynolds credits his support system, including the A&T coaching staff, for helping him to balance playing football for one of the best teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, graduate school, as well as teaching.
When Aggies head coach Sam Washington heard about the side hustle of his senior linebacker, he asked whether Reynolds was serious. He was.
“I was not surprised,” Washington told MEACSports.com. “That’s just who he is as a person. He is one of those people always willing to help.”
Reynolds’ unique schedule would not have been possible without receiving some help of his own.
In August, Reynolds, with the focus of a linebacker homing in on a ball-carrier, went to change a class for his first semester of graduate school. During his meeting with the faculty, the 21-year-old mentioned he had graduated with a degree in biology. At that moment, North Carolina A&T was looking for graduate teaching assistants in . . . biology. Reynolds signed a few forms, and before he knew it, another responsibility was on his plate.
“When things don’t look as clear as they should, I just wait, and give God his time to work. Every time,” he said with a pause, “He’s right on time.”
The Aggies were 42-7 in Reynolds’ tenure on campus with three national titles, a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearance and the school’s first undefeated season in 2017.
As Reynolds awaits word of his acceptance to medical school, his backup plan is a football fellowship with his former high school football coach who’s now at Woodberry Forest High School in Virginia. Whether he immediately heads to medical school, or moves to Virginia, football has been instrumental in him getting this far. Reynolds said it was indescribable to encapsulate his pride. But, he did so by praising the men who were known who provided the foundation for the blue and gold Pride of the Piedmont.
“It’s so much more than just the wins,” he said. “It’s so much more than the rings. It’s so much more than the titles. It’s the boys you did it with. The guys. Getting to know each and every one of these boys. The guys who came before us, everyone knows his name now, Tarik Cohen. It’s guys like him who really got this program going.”