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'Delayed, not denied': Jeremy Reaves grateful to earn roster spot

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The first thing Jeremy Reaves saw when he woke up on roster cut day was his phone blowing up with notifications.

He knew that could mean one of two things: either he was going to be cut, and the fans hated the decision; or he made the roster, and the fans loved it.

It understandably took Reaves a few minutes to see the news for himself -- cut day does not come with a sense of calmness -- and even when he saw the reports that he had made the roster, he still did not believe it. He needed to be in the building to hear the news from the coaches himself.

It was not until head coach Ron Rivera said, "Hey, I just want to let you know, kid, you're in," as they were heading downstairs to the lower portion of the Washington Commanders' facility that reality set in. For the first time, Reaves had made the initial 53-man roster, marking the culmination of all the work he had put in to achieve the milestone.

"I've always kept the mindset of 'delayed, not denied,'" Reaves said Wednesday. "You get that moment, and it's...full circle."

It is striking to hear that Reaves had never earned an initial roster spot considering how much of a role he has played for the team. A member of the franchise since 2018, Reaves started the final three games of the 2020 season, securing an interception in the regular season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles that helped Washington claim a 20-14 victory and the NFC East division crown.

That did not earn him a roster spot the following season, nor did his 29 tackles to close out the 2021 season. But Reaves kept standing out during this year's training camp, as he led the defense with 11 tackles in the preseason while also recording a sack.

"We were sitting down, and all of these coaches felt that this guy came, played, did the things that he needed to do, showed us what he is capable of," Rivera said. "He is a guy that earned his spot. I'm very proud of him."

The Washington Commanders begin preparing for their 2022 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Check out the top photos from Wednesday's practice. Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders

A wave of emotion washed over Reaves when he heard the news from Rivera. Of course, there were tears, but there was also laughter and joy. He reminisced on all the ups and downs that he had been through over the past four seasons, from making the playoffs to going back to the practice squad, only to repeat the process the following year.

There was also sadness, because Reaves' mother, who passed away during the 2021 season, was not there to celebrate with him. He believes that she will always be with him, though, and everything he has done over the past year has been for her.

"She was always in my corner," Reaves said Aug. 24. "She supported me through everything, and I know that she's still supporting me now. I was explaining this the other day, out there is when I feel her the most, and I feel her with me the most. And so just being able to share that moment out there on the field and just feel my mom out there...it's an indescribable feeling."

Reaves has had a turbulent NFL career, but he has learned to get the most out of his experiences. Fellow safety Bobby McCain called him "one of the smartest guys in the back end" and added that Reaves knows how to take advantage of his opportunities.

That kind of praise is something Reaves takes to heart.

"To hear that from a veteran guy that you look up to in our room, it's awesome, man," Reaves said. "That side of the game really matters. I've prided myself on being very cerebral."

Confidence, Reaves said, is the one area in which he has improved the most. He feels like this past training camp was the moment where he "put it all together" and coupled that with his belief that he belongs on the team.

He took that confidence out on the field, and it showed in his play.

"I carried that swagger with me, and I'm gonna continue to," Reaves said. "So, it'll be fun this week."

It is a great moment for Reaves, but there is not much time for him to bask in the accomplishment. The Commanders open the season on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars with the hope of starting the season 1-0 for the second time in three seasons.

And it's a guarantee that Reaves, who will be suiting up for his first ever Week 1 game, will do everything possible to help his team start on a high.

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