His coaches say Demarius Reed had been a natural leader on the football field since he was a boy, sporting skills that propelled him from the playing fields of Simeon Career Academy to a spot on the roster at Eastern Michigan University.
On visits back to Chicago's South Side, Reed talked to kids on his old youth team about staying away from gangs and trouble. But on Friday, violence found Reed near his college campus in Ypsilanti, Mich. The 20-year-old was discovered dead in his apartment complex, fatally shot in what police say was an apparent robbery.
"It's really hard for me to talk about it," Dimitrius Hardwick, one of Reed's childhood coaches, said outside Gately Stadium on Friday afternoon before a Simeon football game. "His drive and his will to succeed in life, period, whether it was in school or on the field, you know that was just the type of young man he was."
Reed's body was found by a roommate in a hallway of the University Green apartments about 7:15 a.m. Police said some of his personal possessions were missing. No one was in custody Friday evening.
Reed's father, Carl Reed, said he learned of what happened to his son from Demarius' girlfriend, also a student at Eastern Michigan, who called him from a hospital. At first, Reed said he thought his son was suffering complications from a concussion he had suffered during a game last weekend.
Instead, he found himself shortly afterward breaking the news to Demarius' 14-year-old brother, a freshman on Simeon's varsity team.
"He's doing OK," Carl Reed said. "He looked up to him so much."
Damoney Reed chose to play in the school's last regular-season game Friday night to honor his brother. "That's why he's out there today," Hardwick said. "He's there to play for his brother. He feels like that's what he would have wanted him to (do)."
Before taking the field for the game with Foreman High School, the team yelled "D-Reed" and a woman on the sidelines yelled, "Play hard for him!" Damoney Reed led Simeon onto the field after halftime carrying his brother's No. 2 jersey on a pole. The jersey was on a fence near the field during the game.
Simeon won 44-0.
During his years at Simeon, Demarius Reed played receiver and defensive back and returned kicks. One of his biggest moments was a game-clinching interception in the final minute of a 47-41 win over Mount Carmel at Soldier Field in 2010.
Reed's coach at Simeon, Dante Culbreath, remembered Reed as outgoing and well-spoken. They were close — Reed would send Culbreath a text each morning. "He would say, 'Good morning, coach,'" Culbreath said.
Reed had started all six games for Eastern Michigan this season as a wide receiver, with 15 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown, according to the school. He was focused on making it to the NFL, his father said.
"Special teams — anything — just to have an opportunity to make it in the NFL was his lifelong dream,'' Carl Reed said. "He was definitely looking for a shot to participate in the NFL but ... he recognized it's a long shot but he still tried to pursue that goal."
Eastern Michigan held a forum at its student center on campus Friday that drew 125 people. University President Susan Martin called the death "a senseless tragedy," and officials said he was well-liked by his teammates and coaches.
Heather Lyke, vice president and director of athletics, recalled Reed's pride growing up in Chicago. She said he used to tell people: "You weren't from Chicago unless you were from the South Side of Chicago."
The school plans to play its scheduled home game Saturday against Ohio University.
Demarius' best friend and teammate from Simeon, Darius Scott, also plays on the Eastern Michigan football team. The two had been eighth-grade basketball rivals, but "D-Reed" and "D-Scott" quickly became inseparable, according to Scott's mother, Cynthia Johnson.
"It's like I lost a son, that's how close they were," Johnson said. "He was the life of the party. There was never a dull moment when he came around. He had a spark, he was a very happy, bubbly young man."
Reed and Scott were college roommates for two years. They had promised to be the best man at each other's weddings. Johnson named her younger son Demarius when Scott suggested naming his little brother after his best friend.
"They would always give each other an extra push," Johnson said, "on and off the field."
Johnson said her son had spent Thursday night out with friends, and Scott watched Reed get in his car to drive home. He heard about Reed's death early the next morning, Johnson said.
As a boy, Reed was placed in accelerated classes at Cuffe and Harlan elementary schools before attending Simeon. His father remembered throwing the football with Demarius when he was a child.
His heroics at Simeon are still remembered by younger kids. Halethia Jones' son was a freshman on the Simeon team when Reed was a senior. Last weekend, Jones watched the Eastern Michigan game with her son on television.
"My son kept pointing him out, yelling, 'Mom! That's Demarius!'" Jones said.
"He had a future," Carl Reed said.
"He was always a joy to be around,'' Reed said as he started to cry. "He was smart, intelligent, athletic. He was a good son. ... He was my best friend. He was developing to be such a positive young man."
Tribune reporter Lauren Zumbach and freelance reporters Mike Helfgot and Al Willman contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun