Kirkland said the school could not have afforded the sport without Reed's donation, which he said will keep the program running for years to come.

"It's a huge deal," the principal said. "It builds school morale. We can have a real homecoming game with a king and queen. Our kids can sit down at a football game and feel like they're at a real school."

Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA to play, so football has served as an academic motivator and a hook to keep older male students at the school, Kirkland said.

In gratitude for Reed's contribution, players gave him a framed SEED jersey, signed by all of them, at last year's Thanksgiving turkey handout.

"For them, it's definitely personal," Byram said. "They know he's the reason the team exists."

Reed's departure to Houston saddened Byram and Kirkland, though his foundation has pledged to continue supporting SEED and Booker T. Washington, where just this week, Reed funded sports physicals from Pikesville-based Doctors Express for about 60 children.

At his introductory press conference in Houston, Reed spoke of his enduring bond with Baltimore.

"That will never be taken back," he said. "I'll always be in that community, and I'm always forever grateful to my fans, to that city, to my neighborhood, my neighbors, to so many people and so many things — Booker T. Washington School, community things that we've done, Stevenson University, just working with those kids and that community. That's what it's about.

"Football is what we do. It's our job, it's a business. But the relationships that I have with people in Baltimore will never change."

childs.walker@baltsun.com