Jason DeCrow / The Associated Press

Eric Reid shared the moment with daughter LeiLani when he was drafted by the 49ers with the 18th pick in the NFL draft in April.

49ers' rookie Reid, grade-A student and dad, readies for first NFL start

Published: Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013 - 4:50 pm

SANTA CLARA – Matching wits with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in your first NFL start may seem like a daunting proposition for a rookie.

Eric Reid, however, has had to grow up fast before.

In 2009, when the 49ers safety was 17, he had a 4.0-plus grade-point average, a starring role on his high school football team and, to everyone's surprise, a child. His daughter, LeiLani, was born three months before his senior year began.

Eric Sr. and Sharon Reid made sure their son knew LeiLani was his responsibility. Eric Jr. cared for his daughter on weekends and got a job as a cashier at his hometown Wal-Mart. He made $8.10 an hour.

One year later, he improved his GPA to 4.6, was ranked the No. 4 safety in the nation and landed a scholarship to play at LSU.

"I never even knew he had a job," said Benny Saia, who coached Reid at Dutchtown High in Geismar, La. "He worked. He paid for diapers. He did everything he had to as an adult."

Maturity and responsibility are recurring themes with Reid.

Even though the 49ers traded to move up 13 spots in the first round to draft Reid, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn't want to just hand the starting free-safety job to a rookie, so he threw him into a four-way competition for the role.

But it quickly became apparent that Reid, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 213 pounds, wasn't just athletically superior to his veteran rivals – he quickly caught up mentally, too.

"He's smart, he's very athletic, and he don't mind hitting," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "And he listens really well. It's not like you talk to him and he looks lost and doesn't know what to do. That's a big thing to be able to look back there and say, 'Hey, on this formation, I'm counting on you.' "

At Dutchtown and LSU, Reid was known foremost as a vicious hitter.

"He tried to kill everybody he hit," Saia said.

But he also was a thinking man. Asked to describe his style of play after he was drafted, Reid pointed to brains before brawn.

"I'm a very cerebral player," he said. "I pride myself on knowing the defense. I pride myself on being able to get the guys lined up on the team, and being a great teammate and also doing my job."

Eric Reid Sr. was a three-time All-America hurdler for LSU from 1984-87 and is a member of LSU's Athletic Hall of Fame, but academics were paramount in his house.

Bring home a C on a quiz, a test, a paper or – heaven forbid – a report card, and there would be consequences. Mediocrity was not tolerated.

"If they came home with a C, they lost some privileges," Eric Sr. said of his children. "Eric knew that if he didn't take care of academics, he wasn't playing any sports. I only remember a couple of B's. The rest were A's."

Eric Jr. didn't get any breaks after LeiLani was born, either. When she was 6 days old, he watched her alone for the first time. He expected the newborn would sleep in his parents' room. After all, they had practice, having raised four kids.

Eric Sr., however, quickly squashed that idea. The baby, he told his son, is sleeping with you in your room.

The next morning, Eric Sr. asked his son how the first night went, and Eric Jr. said the baby slept pretty well.

"But how'd you sleep?" he asked his son.

"I didn't sleep at all," his son replied.

Said the father: "Welcome to parenthood."

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.

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