Jerry Reese: UTM's gentle Giant
The crisp, fall air of an open stadium; the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs on a charcoal grill; cleats digging into the turf as the players take their positions for the coin toss; and fans cheering as kickoff starts the game.
No matter how hot it is right now, the advent of football season brings both reflection and anticipation.
Just ask New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, whose football career began in UTM's Hardy Graham Stadium.
Born in Tiptonville, Tennessee, to sharecroppers, Jerry Reese was one of nine family members and had next to nothing growing up, not even a bed. He was raised between the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and Reelfoot Lake. Every April it was guaranteed that the Mississippi would get angry, break the levees and flood the surrounding areas. Reese would be out in a boat fishing in the flooded streets near his house. This was hard country living.
But that didn't deter Reese from doing what he dreamed of doing: playing ball.
Reese attended Lake County High School in Tiptonville where he played football, baseball and basketball for the Falcons, but football was his passion. While in high school, Reese was an all-star selection both at quarterback and defensive back.
His team played for the state championship in three of his seasons and he led the Falcons to a Tennessee Class A state title in 1980. In his high school career, he passed more than 900 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In 1981, Reese came to play for UTM.
"I chose UTM because it was one of the schools that offered me a scholarship," said Reese.
It was at UTM where Reese received his first bed when he went to live in the dorms.
Upon starting classes, Reese found his schedule was somewhat of the same he had had in high school because it was arranged around football.
"I had to schedule my classes around football and make sure they were balanced. I had to work for my scholarship," said Reese.
Reese was a standout defensive player for the then Pacers. He had a reputation of being the hardest hitter in the Gulf South Conference despite being in the 160-pound range.
During his time at UTM he was a two-time All-Gulf South Conference winner, among All-Time Leaders Interceptions, and a three-time GSC Defensive Player of the Week. In 1984, he was named Tennessee-Martin MVP.
After graduating in 1984 with a degree in Health and Physical Education, he took on a graduate assistant's job, where he stayed until he finished his masters in education administration and supervision in 1987.
When the '88 season unfolded, the Pacers ran out with Jerry Reese as the secondary assistant coach, a position he kept until 1992. In 1993 he moved into the assistant head coach position and moved to work with the receivers.
"For someone who came from his background, Jerry pushed himself and was hard on himself. He worked around the clock to make himself better. We see what he's done today," said Charley Deal, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, a close friend and fellow student of Reese.
In 1994, the New York Giants tapped Reese for a scouting position. He took it and began climbing up the ranks. In 1995, he was inducted into the University of Tennessee at Martin's Athletic Hall of Fame.
After spending eight years as a scout for the Giants, Reese moved up the ladder and in 2002 he was promoted to director of personnel. The promotion put him in charge of scouting players for the draft and as free agent players.
"With my background and leadership qualities I learned at UTM by being part of a team, I still use those skills today," said Reese.
During his run as director of personnel, Reese saw many great players come through his doors. The most notable would be two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning.
"You always got to dream big," said Reese. "I always dreamed of being head coach at UTM at some point and look where I am now."
With the 2007 season opening, Reese was in a new position. He was now the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Giants.
A year after garnering the job as general manager, Reese saw his efforts come to fruition when Eli Manning led the charge against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, culminating in a 17-13 victory for the Giants. That same year Reese was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
History was repeated four years later when the Giants earned their second Super Bowl victory under Reese's supervision, once again defeating the Patriots 21-17 at the Super Bowl XLVI.
Reese has a soft spot for UTM.
"For the freshmen coming to college, try to take it all in. Don't overload yourself. Enjoy your time. Make sure you have fun, but most of all relax," said Reese.
Reese currently resides in Jefferson Township, New Jersey, with his wife Gwen, who is also a UTM graduate, and his two children, Jasmyne Danielle and Jerry, Jr.
Even though he is in another state, he is still in the thoughts of his peers.
"Jerry is a quiet Giant. He takes care of business and seizes opportunities. He's living the American dream," said Deal.
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