In order to pinpoint David Reed's journey to the NFL, you would need a full-size map and a handful of thumbtacks.
With a football career spanning from New England to the West Coast, from the Rocky Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, Reed is certainly an experienced explorer.
At each destination – two high schools and stints at Pasadena Community College and the University of Utah – Reed's determination and toughness willed him onward, eventually pushing him to his current place with the Ravens.
Now, Reed can only look back in astonishment.
Grateful for the sacrifices of his mother, Karen, who raised him and his younger brother as a single parent, and several coaches along the way, Reed is ready to make the most of his next and biggest break.
"Sometimes I think, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm here,'" the quiet fifth-round draft pick said with a smile. "All that work, all the struggles, I'm just thankful that I have an opportunity to be with this team, to compete and contribute to a winner."
Academic Struggles Overcome With A Coach's Call
From 2004-05, Reed was a standout receiver at Connecticut's New Britain High, helping take coach Jack Cochran's Hurricanes to two consecutive Class LL championships as the centerpiece of the passing attack.
Growing up without a father figure, Cochran became an early surrogate for Reed, mentoring him both on and off the field.
So much, in fact, that when Cochran left for New London High School in 2005, Karen let her son follow the coach, and Reed responded by leading Cochran's squad to another title game.
"I wouldn't be in the position I am without him," Reed said of Cochran. "He was like a father figure to me. Anything he could do for me, he did."
Despite Reed's exploits on the gridiron, however, major colleges weren't knocking down his door because he simply couldn't qualify in the classroom.
"New Britain High School was way too big," Karen Reed said. "David struggled [academically] and begged not to go there. Each year he was there, he failed. [The move to New London] was a blessing. This is a smaller school and very diverse. David did well."
Leaving a high school of nearly 3,000 students (New Britain) in favor of one with less than 1,000 (New London) helped, but it wasn't enough.
With Cochran's assistance, David Reed's football dreams continued the hard way. Cochran knew the head coach at Pasadena Community College and finagled a spot for Reed on the roster.
"I knew I had to take another route, because my academics weren't up to standard," Reed explained.
A Mother's Sacrifice
As foreign as life was in Pasadena – he had never before been to California – Reed found comfort in football.
But while the prolific Reed was shattering school and junior college records, academics remained an issue.
Reed's mother was picking up every dime of his PCC tenure, but unless he wrested a scholarship from a bigger program, Reed feared the money would run out.
If anything, he refused to burden Karen any longer.
"I was struggling, and my mother was struggling," Reed said of Karen, whom he said works for the Connecticut Mental Retardation Department. "She paid for everything. You can't get a scholarship to JuCo, and I didn't have any financial aid, so it was tough. She did everything she could for me, and I had to do everything I could for her.
"I feel like I broke her. It was my housing, my food, my clothes. She's everything to me."
So, PCC Offensive Coordinator Marguet (pronounced Mar-Gay) Miller mapped out a rigorous plan for Reed to earn his associate's degree in only two years, making him eligible for a scholarship and off mom's payroll.
Some days, Reed was not only a student at PCC, but he also attended classes at up to two other community colleges in the Los Angeles area. The typical routine was a wakeup call from Miller followed by a run from classroom to classroom around the city with books, and sometimes cleats, in tow.
"There were times when I would go to school all day, workout at night, and then do it all over again."
That resolve paid off, as Reed's route began to skew northward.
A High Learning Curve
In the summer of 2008, the University of Utah held camp in early August.
On Aug. 4, Reed arrived on campus. That same day, he hit the turf with his new Utes teammates.
The little-known JuCo prospect had the odds stacked against him, but right from the beginning of his Rocky Mountain tenure, his coaches, especially Utah receivers coach Aaron Roderick, sensed something special.
They saw hard work, as Reed voluntarily participated in two-a-day practices when the rest of the team was split in shifts. They knew of Reed's resolve, after he earned his AA degree in a tight time frame. And, his talent regularly flashed when given an opportunity.
"He got there the day we reported, and it was time to go," said Roderick. "Most guys would have been on your campus for at least a month, but he was finishing that degree. He learned the offense fast, but it took our offensive coordinator to really trust that he could play him all the time.
"We didn't know him, and were really deep at receiver that year. By midseason, it was clear David was our best guy."
Reed was a major part of the Utes' undefeated 2008 campaign, where he returned 25 kickoffs for 635 yards (25.4-yard average). He also caught two passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in Utah's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
"David just toyed with those corners at Alabama and put on quite a show," Roderick said with a laugh.
Reed then closed his career in style, setting school records for receptions (81) and yards (1,188) as a senior.
Considering his previous travails, was it any wonder Reed slipped to the Ravens with the 156th-overall selection?
"As a senior, he was our go-to guy," said Roderick. "We were still 10-3, but he wasn't quite on that national stage because our team wasn't on that national stage like we were a year before. If we were in that BCS talk, there is no doubt he would have been a national star."
So, could this be the final pin in Reed's football tour around the country? Could the player Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz praised as a draft favorite become a star in Baltimore?
Looking back, it is obvious that Reed never stopped driving towards his goal, eager to do whatever it took to succeed in any situation.
There have been a few key co-pilots during the winding route, and Reed is hoping to earn a Ravens' roster spot for each one - Karen, Cochran, Miller and Roderick. Consider them mile markers along the way.
"I can't wait to talk to them once I make this squad to thank them," Reed said. "It would be an honor to play receiver. It would be an honor to be a gunner. It would be an honor to run back kicks. I don't care where I play.
"One thing is, whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do it 100 percent."