xml:space="preserve">
Bowie State University football coach, Damon Wilson, left, and offensive coordinator Tyrae Reid watch practice. Reid, a Poly grad, was the quarterback at Bowie State for Coach Wilson's first year in 2009. The Bowie State football team is undefeated and playing in the CIAA championship on Saturday.
Bowie State University football coach, Damon Wilson, left, and offensive coordinator Tyrae Reid watch practice. Reid, a Poly grad, was the quarterback at Bowie State for Coach Wilson's first year in 2009. The Bowie State football team is undefeated and playing in the CIAA championship on Saturday. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

In quarterbacking Bowie State to a 10-0 start and the cusp of a second straight conference title, Ja’rome Johnson has put up numbers that could easily give any college junior a big head, figuratively. But keeping him grounded is that offensive coordinator Tyrae Reid continually reminds Johnson he already has one, literally.

“He calls me Jimmy Neutron,” Johnson laughed, referring to the cartoon big-brained boy genius that starred on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s.

Advertisement

That levity in the quarterback room has a lot to do with where the Bulldogs find themselves. They enter Saturday’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship game against Fayetteville State as one of 11 undefeated Division II football teams remaining. They led the CIAA in scoring offense and scoring defense, as well as touchdowns and passing efficiency.

And Reid, a Baltimore Poly product in his first year as Bowie State’s offensive coordinator, has made sure the Bulldogs have fun while piecing together that offensive display. The Bowie State quarterbacks meet for about 50 minutes every morning, going over the game plan for the upcoming opponent. They also dish out joke after joke to keep the mood light.

“When you’re around guys, it’s always good to be able to have fun,” Reid said. “If it’s always uptight and dry, you know those guys will be miserable, so we try to make it fun. We laugh and joke with each other, but it’s strictly business when we get out on the field.”

Although he’s held the title of coordinator for only this season, Reid is more than familiar with coach Damon Wilson’s program and system. Wilson’s first season at the helm was 2009, the same year Reid stepped on campus as a freshman quarterback for the Bulldogs.

He arrived in Bowie unsure what his future held. Wilson persuaded him to honor his commitment by offering the opportunity to play quarterback, whereas other schools’ coaches suggested positional changes to receiver or defensive back.

“I’m gonna be honest," Reid said. “He’s the reason why I’m here.”

Reid began his freshman season as a reserve, but he was the Bulldogs’ starter by the third game of the year. Thanks to a three-way tiebreaker determined by a coin flip, the Bulldogs reached the CIAA title game with a 6-4 record but lost to Fayetteville State. Once told he should change positions if he wanted to continue his football career, Reid was a member of the conference’s all-rookie team. Although Bowie State didn’t return to the championship game, Reid started games for Wilson each of the next three seasons.

“He said if I came here, I would have a chance,” Reid, 28, said. “I came in, even though the depth chart was full and I was at the bottom. I had an opportunity, and I made the best of the opportunity.”

And thus came another. Reid spent the season after his senior year coaching quarterbacks as a student assistant under Wilson. Five members of the Bulldogs’ 11-man coaching staff are Bowie State alumni, including Wilson and Reid.

“It was always my vision after his career to get him on my staff,” Wilson said. “His work ethic was good as a player. I knew as a coach, he would bring that same type of high football IQ, same type of work ethic. Recruiting, he has an eye for talent. Developing talent, he’s a good teacher. All of those things are qualities I’m looking for in my coaches.”

Reid spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Division III McDaniel College’s quarterbacks coach, getting selected to the NCAA Future Football Coaches Academy in 2015. He returned to Bowie State as quarterbacks coach the next year, serving in that role until his promotion to offensive coordinator when Moses Ware joined the staff at his own alma mater, North Carolina Central, this past offseason.

Reid’s ascent, he believes, allows him to connect with the players he’s now responsible for as offensive coordinator.

“I’ve been in the role of every guy of the team, from the redshirts to the starters,” he said. “I’ve been third string before. I’ve been the starter. I’ve made game-winning plays. I’ve lost games. Just being able to relate to all of the guys, it gives them a reference point, so they can always come and talk to me if they have any questions or are feeling down about something. They know that they’ll one day rise to the top.”

Reid is still rising himself, and if you ask Wilson, he has plenty of room above him.

Advertisement

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Wilson said. “I’m going to try to push him as much as I can here and hold onto him as long as I can and try to continue to help where I can with his overall development, but I think the sky’s the limit. He’ll be a future head coach somewhere, and if he wants to coach in the National Football League, I think he’ll have the ability to do that, as well.”

But Reid is focused on Bowie State, where he has coached the CIAA Offensive Player of the Year in three of the past four seasons in Johnson and quarterback predecessor Amir Hall. Reid and linebackers coach Kyle Jackson, another Baltimore native and Bowie State alum, have talked often about where they want to see their alma mater go.

“Right now, we’re a really good CIAA team,” Reid said. “We want to be a national powerhouse, a premier DII program.

“We want to keep guys at home. We want them to come here at Bowie State and help us win national championships.”

The next step toward that goal comes Saturday, when the Bulldogs face Fayetteville State at 3 p.m. in Salem, Virginia, for their fourth CIAA title game appearance in the past five years. Even when they missed it in 2017, they still managed to make the 28-team NCAA tournament field with a 9-1 record and the nation’s top offense.

Bowie State beat the Broncos, 30-10, to win its first CIAA championship in 2018, then won a playoff game, too, slipping past West Alabama, 41-35. But the Bulldogs’ season ended in the next round to eventual national championship Valdosta State, 66-16.

They’ve bounced back with this undefeated run, the first perfect regular season in program history, to make the title game with no coin flip necessary. Johnson, in his first year at Bowie State after transferring from the University of Virginia at Wise, led the conference in passing efficiency, ranked third in passing touchdowns and fourth in rushing touchdowns among all players despite opening the year, like Reid did as a freshman, on the bench.

“He helped me with everything, making me a better player from the spring until now,” Johnson said. “He’s a big part of my progression.”

Wilson has built a structure over the last decade that allows new players to come in and have success, Reid said, while preaching the goal of earning national championships since his first day as Bowie State’s coach. In Reid, the Bulldogs have a former Bowie State quarterback coaching the current crop, and that, in Wilson’s eye, is a distinct advantage in achieving that objective.

“His love for the university is great,” Wilson said. “When you love where you’re working at every day and you played here, it’s a little added motivation to be successful. I think he’s excited to lead this ballclub from an offensive standpoint. He wants to make the home crowd proud of him, and he’s doing a good job thus far.”

FAYETTEVILLE STATE VS. BOWIE STATE

Advertisement

CIAA Championship at Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia

Saturday, 3 p.m.

TV: Aspire Network

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement