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From Hardwood to Gridiron


A tough decision confronted Joe Reitz.

As a standout multi-sport athlete at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., he encountered a crossroads in his athletic career – hardcourt or gridiron.

Still undecided as he went through the recruiting process, Reitz visited Western Michigan University's football program. While in town, he also arranged a meeting with the basketball staff.

"The word on Joe coming out of high school was that he was going to play football and that was it," said Steve Hawkins, Western Michigan's head men's basketball coach. "His AAU coach said, 'I wouldn't be so fast to give up on him because he really does enjoy basketball, too.'"

So it was that Hawkins successfully pursued Reitz, who turned down several football scholarship offers – including one from Indiana University – to lace up his high-tops in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he spent four productive seasons in the Mid-American Conference.

"You grow up in Indiana, and you're fed this Hoosiers dream of the little kid in the cornfield shooting on the backboard," Reitz recalled. "I thought that basketball was the greatest thing in the world."

But even on the basketball court, Reitz's size and physical play continued to draw the eye of football scouts.

"Each of the last three or four years, we would get calls from NFL teams just uncovering every rock," stated Hawkins. "I explained to them that he had a football background, and then I spoke with Joe. It was certainly something he was interested in pursuing, as well. It just sort of blossomed from there.

"I think his athleticism on a basketball court was pretty good for his size and for his position," Hawkins continued. "As it translates over onto a football field, he does have pretty good speed [and] lateral movement for a big guy."

Throughout the Ravens' Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Reitz played snaps at both tight end and offensive tackle. The 6-foot-7 rookie is eager to prove he can play wherever the team most needs him.

"I'm trying to gain weight, get stronger and learn both positions," Reitz stated. "As a player, you want to be able to do as much as you can because that can only help you and the team."

That kind of selfless attitude is something Hawkins became accustomed to at Western Michigan.

"I've never coached anybody with higher character than Joe," noted the coach. "I might've had a couple players that had equal character, but none higher. It's just impossible to do."

In order to transform his body from a basketball player's build to a football player's physique, Reitz is spending extra time in both the weight room and the cafeteria.

"I've changed my diet in terms of eating more. I was always eating salads and running two miles every day last summer," Reitz recalled. "Now it's a little nicer to be able to go in and chow down in the cafeteria because I'm trying to add the weight. Everybody I meet is like, 'Hey, I wish I could be on your plan!'"

Having last played football in high school, Reitz used the Ravens' recent OTAs to shake off any rust from his game and prepare himself for training camp.

"Five years without doing any football drills, and then you get thrown an NFL playbook. You think, 'Oh, my gosh. What did I get myself into?'" Reitz said. "But things have slowed down and I'm feeling more and more comfortable every day."

Reitz has made the transition back to the football field smoothly enough that some teammates have even been unaware of his basketball background.

"I've got a new guy coming up to me every day asking, 'You played basketball in college? You didn't even play football?' That makes me feel good."

Still, Reitz knows training camp will pose a tough challenge, but one he is ready to meet.

"I'm just going to have to be in the best shape I can and be mentally tough throughout it all." Reitz asserted. "Just try to get a little bit better every day and then see what happens."

Whatever happens in training camp, Reitz believes the Ravens provide him with the best opportunity to succeed.

"I love it out here. From the top down, everybody has one goal in mind, and that's to win football games," Reitz said. "You really like coming to an organization where everybody has the same vision. I think when that happens you can do great things."

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