by Rob Moseley
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A player known for his unrelenting motor on the field in Eugene spent Monday morning motoring down the highway from Austin to the Alamo Bowl.
Nick Reed, Oregon's single-season and career leader in sacks, is using a two-week winter break from Air Force pilot training to attend today's matchup between the Ducks and Texas (3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN). Reed, a 2008 UO senior, entered the Air Force this past spring after two seasons in the NFL, and began pilot training two months ago at Sheppard Air Force Base in North Texas.
When Reed heard his alma mater would be playing in Texas during his winter break, his reaction was as quick as Reed used to be coming off the line as a pass rusher for the Ducks.
"It was an easy decision: We had to go," said Reed, who spent part of the break on the West Coast before arriving in his girlfriend's hometown of Austin on Sunday.
Reed was an all-American for Oregon in 2008 when he had 13 sacks, tying the school record held by Ernest Jones in 1993. That put Reed at 29.5 sacks for his career, a half-sack more than Jones compiled from 1990-93.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks the following spring, Reed played in 16 games as a rookie and finished 2009 with 17 tackles and one sack. It would be the only one the record-setting UO pass rusher record as a pro.
Reed attended camps but didn't get a contract for 2010. He played in seven games with the Chicago Bears and three with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011, but by then he felt his life being pulled in another direction.
Reed grew up the son of a Navy flight surgeon, whose stories always appealed to Reed. He applied to the Air Force, and when it came time to list his potential career paths for Officer Training School, Reed checked but a single box.
"The only thing I put on there was, 'pilot,'" he said. "I wouldn't have gone in or joined if I hadn't been accepted as a pilot.
His interest was spurred by his dad's stories, and also a knowledge he wasn't cut out for a 9-to-5 career.
"I needed a little bit of excitement," Reed said. "I needed to be a little scared, a little stressed out. I think that's fun and rewarding.
"On top of that, I'm used to working with a team, working in concert with a bunch of like-minded people, who are a lot of fun to hang out with."
Reed began pilot training in Texas a month or so ago, and will wrap up the 55-week program next December. It was only a few weeks after Reed was stationed at Sheppard that the Alamo Bowl matchup was announced, between the local Longhorns and Reed's Ducks.
Soon thereafter, Reed found that the Oregon sticker on his car had been ripped off. (It was quickly replaced.)
The first few weeks of flight training have involved bookwork — studying the airplane he'll be training in — and odd jobs. The real fun is set to begin in mid-January, when the actual flying is scheduled to begin.
"I'm really excited," Reed said. "It's supposed to be a ton of fun. But that's when the real work starts, too, and you start dealing with all the stress. You've got school work on top of simulators on top of flights. It's all part of the deal."
Today, though, Reed will continue to enjoy his winter respite, and watch his Ducks take on Texas. It will be the swan song for Reed's defensive coordinator at Oregon, Nick Aliotti, who has announced his retirement after the game.
"If he wanted to retire, it's good for him and it will be nice to have some free time," Reed said. "I think college football coaching, of all the coaching it's the most stressful. They get even less time off than the NFL guys.
"But it's a loss for the Ducks. He's a great guy and great coach. Hopefully I'll be able to see him and thank him."