WAXAHACHIE — All parents see their children as special, unique and primed to conquer life, but not all discover their true God-given talent before they could walk.
Though none may know the path ahead of Jalen Reagor, the lights guiding his way brightened after Tuesday's official acceptance to play in the Under Armor All-American Game. His talents, along with 80 of the nation's best four-star athletes, will be on display Jan. 1 at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
"I'm blessed to have my friends and family here, but most of all my mom, dad and grandmother," Jalen said gripping the sides of the wooden podium and meeting the intense glance of his father, Montae Reagor. "I thank the fans, too, for their support, constructive criticism, and cheers, but most of all, I want to thank them for their love."
His words rang out like a bell across the silent room, like a brisk rush of fall air or the first rain of spring. Past the usual regurgitated rhetoric athletes can spew from time to time, the boy standing face-to-face with his destiny was different, honest and forthcoming.
He took the time to thank each of the people responsible for opening a door or window or pushing him through it, oblivious to time constraints or schedules. For Jalen, it's always been about ball and remembering those who picked you up when you fell along the way.
Though nearly anyone who meets him for the first time can notice a strange, yet joyful aura surrounding the 5-foot-11 wide receiver, none other than his mother, father and grandmother knew he'd be where he is now the day he was born.
"When he was a little boy, I knew he was going to be better than his dad. When he starting running, I asked myself why he didn't walk first. He just ran — everywhere," Jalen's mother Ishia Johnson said with a smile, choking back a tear while staring at her son jaw back and forth with All-American team representatives fitting him with microphones. "When we tried to get him to say his first word, it was ball. Not mama or daddy. Ball. All I could think is, 'This kid is too much.' I knew he was going to be good. He has always had an edge to him."
Johnson added despite having the unique edge and a famous parent, Jalen rarely mentioned Montae to other children. She noted his pee-wee coach's comment, "It's amazing that he's a kid on a pee-wee [football] team and his dad's in the NFL, but he never talks about it with the other kids."
Montae broke Texas Tech University's school record with 24.5 sacks and 47 tackles for loss in 1997 and earned consensus first-team All-American and All-Big 12 first-team honors a year later. He also spent eight seasons in the National Football League with the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles and won Super Bowl XLI with Peyton Manning and the Colts in 2006.
After Tuesday, though, Jalen and Monte have something else in common other than their bloodline — they are All-Americans.
"He's going to be way better than me. I know it," Montae said in a matter-of-fact sort away, letting out a gruff chuckle as he snapped photos of his son with his iPhone. "We knew he was going to be great the moment he opened his eyes for the first time. That boy is special."
When you meet him, you'll notice the larger-than-life persona huddled behind his humbler-than-most exterior and interior — the gist and the substance of Waxahachie's current superstar that bursts forth unencumbered by the arrogance that may plague others that have a Super Bowl-winning father.
Jalen joins the Under Armor All-American class with the likes of South Hill High School's Tylan Wallace, DeSoto High School's Edward Ingram and Cedar Hill High School's Avery Davis and follows high-functioning collegiate stars like the University of Michigan's Jabrill Peppers and NFL standouts like Atlanta's Julio Jones, Chicago's Alshon Jefferey and Oakland's Amari Cooper.
Waxahachie's leader in receiving yards wasn't the only the one honored, either.
If you took a moment to look at the faces in the room, many were kin to Jalen in some way or another and all had played a part in the boy who stood at the podium and at the beginning of a young and promising football future. There were uncles and aunts and cousins and brothers — the ones that bleed green rather than the customary red that runs through non-Indian veins.
With all of the faces in the crowd, family members, friends, brothers, coaches principals and a superintendent — you still couldn't miss one of the most important people in a packed Lumpkins Stadium conference room.
In the front row, with a smile as wide as the state of Texas, sat Laveeda Bell, Jalen's grandmother and a woman who helped raise two generations of their family. More than any high draft pick or multi-million dollar contract that may be in her grandson's future, Bell, who was awarded the Dream Award for her selfless support to Jalen, said she hopes the tenants of hard work and sacrifice last through the rigamarole of collegiate and professional superstardom.
"I'm proud to know the morals and values I instilled in my first two kids is inside Jalen," Bell said. "I'm glad he knows that if he wants something, he has to work for it. They'll work with you if you're patient and can take criticism. He knows he can make it and be anything he wants to be — it only requires hard work. It's the same thing I taught his daddy. No one's going to give you anything. He'll be the third out of my house that went to college and two already have their degrees."