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Slimmer Jah Reid may be Ravens' answer at right tackle

Jah Reid grew up hungry in his mother's three-bedroom, one-story home in an old neighborhood of Haines City, Fla. Not that Lucinda Stratton didn't put food on the table. She did. Plenty of it, in fact.

It was just that Reid ate prodigious amounts as a growing youngster and his appetite was rarely sated. By the time he hit 11th grade, he was a plumped-up 370 pounds as a two-way tackle on the football team, too overweight to attract any Division I scholarship offers.

Juxtapose that image with the massive but svelte physique Reid has now at 6 feet 7, 320 pounds and you have the portrait of the player the Ravens believe will be their next right offensive tackle.

The team's third-round draft pick in April, Reid started his last 33 games for Central Florida at right tackle after he engineered a body make-over through diet and training. He was twice selected first team All-Conference USA and performed well in the East-West Shrine game at the end of last season.

"I think he will blossom in our system," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "I just think the arrow is pointed up on him. Reid might be one of the guys who comes in and adapts very well, a guy who can learn the system and compete right away."

The Ravens liked him so much they traded up five spots in the third round — giving away a sixth-round pick — to take Reid ahead of a handful of teams also in the tackle market. At a news conference that day, general manager Ozzie Newsome and DeCosta spoke glowingly about Reid's physical and mental attributes.

It was left for coach John Harbaugh to set the bottom-line expectation for Reid: "He'll be competing for the right tackle spot right out of the gates, and we'll see where it goes."

That, however, was before the NFL lockout dragged into its fourth month, eliminating offseason workouts that traditionally give rookies and first-year players a head start into training camp.

If Reid can play right away, he may be able to resolve an issue that lingered all through last season. When a mysterious back ailment took tackle Jared Gaither out of the lineup for the year, the Ravens were forced to move right guard Marshal Yanda to tackle.

And while Yanda performed admirably, the Ravens' running game took a big step backward in 2010. With Yanda at guard and Reid at tackle, the Ravens likely are a more physical and better run team.

But the pick was even more timely because under the league's current labor proposal, both Gaither and Yanda would be unrestricted free agents this season. In other words, Reid might have to play. The Ravens' mantra is that they will play the five best linemen.

Eight pints a day

Reid's rise from flabby high-schooler to prospective NFL starter is a story of a single-parent mother who did everything she could for her son. Reid reciprocated with his love and willingness to please her.

Reid's father was a 6-foot, 190-pound Jamaican who did not stay with the family. Stratton, just 5-8 1/2, became a Boston Bruins hockey fan when she lived in upstate New York. She could not participate in sports because of her asthma. Deeply religious, Stratton named her son Jah, which is the short form of the name Yahweh, for God.

Reid engaged in lots of activities when he was young. He hiked, went on canoe trips, joined the Boy Scouts, played in his middle school band and, at the prodding of youth coaches because of his size, eventually played football. At 5-5, he literally stood head and shoulders above his elementary school classmates.

"One day I went to school to eat lunch with him," Stratton said. "And all the kids would walk by and give him their milk. He said, 'I drank eight pints of milk today.'"

That barely scratched the surface of it.

Stratton couldn't afford steak, so she bought Hamburger Helper. When they went to a favorite Chinese restaurant, Reid would consume 40 pieces of chunky, kung pao chicken after soup and egg rolls. For dessert, he'd have an ice-cream sundae with M&M's on top. At night — every night, in fact — he'd eat an entire box of cereal with almost half a gallon of milk.

He could easily eat a whole pizza by himself. He also loved sweets, which his mother favored, and sodas.

"I went through four gallons of milk a week with him," Stratton said.

When Reid was 6 years old, he was so big that Stratton had to carry his birth certificate whenever they went to the movies or a restaurant to get children's prices.

When he was in eighth grade, he wore a size 12 sneaker that has grown to 16. When he first started playing football, none of the stores in Haines City could fit him in cleats. He had to get his first pair from another school.

It was not an easy existence for Stratton, who works as a cake decorator in Haines City.

"I lived paycheck to paycheck," she said. "It was challenging, but I wouldn't give it up for anything in the world. I told Jah, 'My job is to go to work and pay the bills. Your job is to behave and do your homework.'"

Reid was better than good. He was dedicated in school, loved to read and was excellent in math. He recently graduated from Central Florida with degrees in Interpersonal Organizational Communication and psychology, his mother said.

Derrick Fox, the agent who will represent Reid when contract negotiations are permitted, credits Stratton with giving her son the foundation he needed.

"She was fantastic," Fox said. "She raised him with a tremendous amount of structure, discipline and respect."

In high school, Reid was too big to wrestle for the high school team, so he worked out with the big men. But he wasn't just an overweight blob. He had rare athleticism, even at 370. He won a scholarship to Central Florida when, at a high school combine, he showed he could clear a 4-foot hurdle from a standing position and had the agility to step under another hurdle.

His rise actually began when Bill Buldini took the coaching job at Haines City in Reid's senior year. Haines City had gone 1-9 the year before, and was 6-24 in the previous three years. The first thing Buldini did was renovate the school's limited weight room.

"Jah was a little sloppy at 360," Buldini said. "All he had done in the weight room was work upper body. No squats. But he threw himself into it. The other thing was, he committed to a running program and plyometrics, and he took off. If he had been doing that for four years, he probably would have been a Florida kid or at Florida State."

Buldini marvels when he sees Reid on television or in photographs now.

"His whole body is completely different," the coach said. "He lost all that fat. I'm sure he'll be fine. He's got super long arms [34 inches] and bends his knees so well. I think with the weight loss and all the stuff he had the last five years with [Central Florida coach] George O'Leary got him prepared to be where he needs to be."

Transformation

When Central Florida recruited and redshirted Reid, football coaches told him he needed to lose weight. He weighed 358 his redshirt year and got down to 320 pounds after his first year. He cut back on red meat, bread and chocolate, switched to 2% milk, and avoided soda and fast food. Combined with his workout regimen, the pounds melted off.

The Ravens got on Reid when Newsome saw him work in the East-West game. That triggered a background check and a review of game tapes. The Ravens found an underrated player with great potential and a terrific work ethic.

"His best football was over the last six, eight games of the [2010] season," DeCosta said. "The culmination of that was the East-West game. He had a great [Liberty] bowl game against Georgia, and we started to see a player who could be good at our level.

"There was not a lot of buzz about him. We were OK with that. We covered every base and he passed every test. We think we got a player who will help us."

Reid was ecstatic to be drafted by the Ravens.

"I can't explain the amount of relief, really," Reid said. "You build up so much stress through that process. I visited there and I loved it. Everybody seemed so genuine and welcoming. I left there thinking I want to come there so bad …"

Reid is waiting out the lockout in Orlando at a friend's apartment, working out every day with offensive tackle Pat Brown, a UCF alum with the Minnesota Vikings.

"I'm just getting by," Reid said. "All the money I get goes to food, which is kind of expensive since I started eating organic.

"I don't know how much [the lockout] will hurt. All I can do is work to stay in shape and get ready to come into camp at any time. … I can't wait to get there and prove myself."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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