On Nov. 17, Airan Reed was with his Southern Illinois teammates in Fargo, N.D., absorbing a 65-17 beatdown at North Dakota State.
That was the same day that The Citadel shocked the college football world by fighting No. 1-ranked Alabama to a 10-10 halftime tie in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Fargo Dome is a long way from Bryant-Denny Stadium, but word of The Citadel's exploits (the Bulldogs eventually lost to Alabama, 50-17) reached Reed, a 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker and a three-year starter at Southern Illinois.
"That Alabama game definitely put The Citadel on the map for me," said Reed, who transferred as a graduate student to the military college over the summer. "I really just wanted a new opportunity, a new spot as my home for my fifth year of college football.
"That game showed me that The Citadel has a great program and great coaches, and are on the right path."
Reed, from Medina, Tenn., had a solid career at SIU, an FCS program that plays in the Missouri Valley Conference. He started 24 of 33 games over three years for the Salukis, with 85 tackles, including 11½ tackles for loss, over his final two seasons.
New Citadel assistant coaches Tony Grantham and Ben Hodges were at Western Illinois in 2017 and coached against Reed and the Salukis. When they found out Reed was on the transfer market, they knew first-hand what kind of player he was.
"He's been awesome," said Grantham, the Bulldogs' new defensive coordinator. "He came in the middle of summer and immediately began working out with our guys and has fit right in from day one.
"He's got a lot of respect for this institution and really understands what it's all about. He's really bought into it, and we're excited that he's here."
Grad-student transfers are one way that a military school such as The Citadel can compete on the transfer market.
Head coach Brent Thompson also has brought in slotback Remus Bulmer, who rushed for 2,117 yards and 15 touchdowns during his career at Sam Houston State.
Last season, the Bulldogs got contributions from grad transfers Shawn McCord (St. Francis), Ronald Peterkin (Georgia State), Isaac Stewart (Louisville) and Cliff Barrett (Lenoir-Rhyne).
The Citadel provides grad-student transfers a chance to play a fifth year of football while pursuing a post-graduate degree — and a glimpse of a military school that’s different from what they are used to. Grad-student players live off campus, not in the barracks, and are not members of the Corps of Cadets.
"You are walking around campus and you see these kids marching in line and getting yelled at," said Reed. "You're like, 'What is going on?' It's a different environment, but it definitely prepares them for life after college and after football.
"I commend these kids for what they go through," he said. "It seems very tough, and I know I couldn't do it. But they do."
Reed's fellow linebacker, preseason all-Southern Conference pick Willie Eubanks, has been Reed's guide to all things Citadel.
"Willie's meant a lot to me," Reed said. "I've never played inside linebacker before. I've always been outside so that transition has been tough. He's helped me pick up the cues, especially in playing against our triple-option offense. It's the toughest offense I've played against in four years of college football."
Reed's family moved about two years ago from Medina to Nashville, Tenn., where his stepfather, Joey Harris, is in the music business. Reed said his stepdad works as a song-plugger for country music label Big Machine Records, and has teamed up with country star Luke Combs and renowned songwriter Jonathan Singleton to form 50 Egg Music.
Reed's often backstage at country music shows and took a Citadel teammate to see Combs when he appeared in concert at Volvo Car Stadium this summer.
That's one way for the new guy to fit in quickly.
"At the end of the day we want to win," said Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey. "If that means giving up some snaps, then that's what it means. If I'm not getting the job done, I would hope they put somebody in that can do it.
"Once you come in and are part of our team, and do our summer workouts and show that you are going to work hard for us, it doesn't matter where you started."
- The Bulldogs' situation at backup quarterback is coming into focus. Redshirt freshman Javonte Middleton has moved from QB to cornerback, and also is working at punt returner. Junior Brian Murdaugh is currently taking second-team snaps, but true freshman Evan Schickel will continue to compete for that spot when he returns from an arm injury.
Thompson also said that receiver Ryan McCarthy, who played QB in the spring, will start taking some reps at QB, as well.
- Among true freshmen, Thompson said that offensive linemen Tereis Drayton from James Island and Ben Brockington from Orangeburg are working with the second team, Drayton at center and Brockington at tackle ... He said freshman Tank Starr has been playing well on the defensive line ... Slotback Dante Smith was in a red jersey Monday with an unspecified injury, but will return soon, Thompson said ... Sophomore linebacker Brian Horn (6-1, 195) is back after missing some early practice time, Thompson said. Linebacker Marquise Blount missed Saturday's scrimmage.